Using Barcodes as Train Tickets

Train riders across England will soon be able to purchase their tickets using their cell phones, and use them without having to print or copy. The Department of Transport (DfT) today released a consultation document, inviting comments on the development of its future smart ticketing strategy for public transport in England.

While smart ticketing schemes have sprung up in isolation in a number of towns and cities in the UK, the consultation marks a major step in the creation of a nationwide, electronic ticketing system. Electronic ticketing takes advantage of bar code labels, which can store all of the tickets information in a row of lines creating a bar code. Bar codes can be read by any barcode scanner, and most smartphones. This means that train riders in England will no longer have to carry a paper copy of their ticket.

The Department is hoping to introduce integrated ticketing over the next five to 10 years – allowing consumers to purchase a single ticket to travel on any mode of transport across any number of transport operators – an idea it believes can be aided through the introduction of smart ticketing and bar coding.

Smart ticketing, where a ticket is held on a chip or bar code rather than a piece of paper, was popularized in the UK by London’s contactless Oyster card scheme, introduced in 2003. The government is now looking at other smart ticketing options, including tickets sent in barcode form to travelers’ phones and print-at-home tickets.

The DfT is also considering the promotion of NFC (near field communications) for ticketing. NFC, used in the Oyster card, allows users to tap a card or other device on a reader and pay for a ticket automatically using stored credit or a per-purchased ticket.

Among the NFC options being examined by the government are NFC bank cards and mobile phones.

The consultation paper also floats the idea of extending the smart tickets to make them multifunctional: as well as using them to pay for travel, holders could use them to pay for parking or bicycle hire as well as a library card. Local authorities could also see the cards double up as ‘entitlement cards’ or ‘citizens’ cards’ – cards used by holders as proof of entitlement to benefits and services.

The smart tickets could also be used in e-money schemes, such as for car clubs, and form part of loyalty or reward schemes.

This is another great example of how barcodes can impact our everyday lives, and as this trend catches on around the world, I can assure you that more barcodes will be used throughout the next few years, possibly in other industries.

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