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TfNSW explores frictionless ticketing technology for People With Disability

Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) is evaluating emerging frictionless ticketing technology to make travelling on public transport easier for People with Disability (PWD), and to enhance the public transport customer experience.

This could include using biometric tools including facial and voice recognition, and 5G smart phone-based technologies.

TfNSW partnered with the iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre and La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion on the recent project, with its findings released in a report.

16,000 concession cards were issued to PWD in 2021, mainly for severely vision impaired people, while 60,000 people applied for a concession card. The study concluded a significant number of people are having difficulties with public transport ticketing.

It found "for PWD that do not meet the concession criteria, tapping on and off can still pose a significant challenge".

"For instance, for people with a mental or physical disability, using public transport can be a stressful experience and concerns about having the right ticket ready and finding access to the platform adds to this stress," the report said.

The report revealed from the beginning of 2021 to September of the same year, 152 problems were reported about concession cards.

"The nature of these problems was quite serious – in many cases the issue prevented the PWD from traveling on public transport. Lost cards are a frequent reason for making an inquiry as are late replacements, expired cards, and making updates to cards," it said.

The study explored emerging technologies over a time span of two to five years and found that several technologies have the potential to deliver a frictionless ticketing experience.

A frictionless ticketing experience is where the end-user can simply walk through the gates that automatically open or walk onto platforms and be issued with a ticket automatically, without the need to tap on and off.

The project evaluated which technologies should be prioritised and provided a deep dive into each of these technology solutions. Four options were recommended for further exploration: a phone app using 5G, a token using Ultra-Wide Band (UWB), biometrics such as facial recognition, and integration with a wayfinding app using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology.

It also said NSW public transport legislation "require amendment to ensure technological neutrality in transport regulation for the future". For example, “the concept of ‘authority to travel’ is linked to the notion of a ticket as a physical item, despite later amendments providing for the use of Opal cards and debit or credit cards … this does not easily fit with an authority to travel conferred using biometrics".

iMOVE CRC managing director Ian Christensen said the study highlighted the barriers for People with Disability accessing public transport.

"Public transport should be accessible to everyone, yet this is not the case for many PWD. Frictionless ticketing has the potential to improve public transport experiences by not just moving people effortlessly, but also enhancing their journeys," Mr Christensen said.

The project’s disability sector stakeholders included the Physical Disability Council of NSW, and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations.

Researchers also consulted with CEOs of Disabled People Organisations, and experts in the public transport field with a lived disability were also consulted.

Transport operators consulted included Airport Link (Sydney’s Airport Train), Transdev Australasia, Sydney Metro, Sydney Trains, and Sydney Ferries.

Additional quotes

Kurt Brissett (Executive Director of TfNSW Connected Journeys): “Frictionless hands-free ticketing is an undeniable emerging technology within the mass transit sector. The research that was undertaken in collaboration with iMOVE and the Centre for Technology Infusion at La Trobe University provided valuable insights about how this technology could be leveraged to benefit our customers. These insights will assist TfNSW by informing future ticketing trials and the direction it takes to ultimately make our Opal network the most accessible and customer friendly public transport system in the world.”
Erik van Vulpen, Lead researcher and Deputy Director, Centre for Technology Infusion, La Trobe University: “This is a great example of innovation for people with disability, that will then also lead to cutting edge solutions for the broader public; An approach that other companies could take example of [or, follow] to develop better customer experiences.”
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