WITH the proliferation of smart phones and the availability of user-friendly apps, the shift towards digital ticketing in public transport has gained traction over the last four years. Nevertheless, traditional ticket vending machines (TVMs) remain an important point of sale for transport operators with up to 80% of revenue still coming from this channel.
At the same time, many TVMs in operation face growing hardware and software obsolescence issues. This raises the question: should operators invest in new TVMs to bridge the last five years of a traditional TVM’s life or try to update their existing machines?
Zugerland Transport Authority (ZVB), which operates bus and ferry services in the Swiss city and the canton of Zug, asked itself exactly this question in 2010 when it was considering replacing its 120 TVMs purchased in 2002. On the one hand, the hardware was in dire need of upgrading, including new payment methods and input modes. On the other hand, the software had to undergo significant changes to use the new Nova national cloud-based multi-modal ticketing platform designed to accept payment through TVMs, apps and bus-driver machines.
Nova required additional hardware and software capabilities regarding means of communication, local data storage and computation power to bridge the technological gap allowing a far greater variety of tickets for journeys across Switzerland to be purchased and printed on the TVM. At the same time, financial constraints required a solution which was as economical as possible.
ZVB investigated several alternatives and finally ended up with three viable options:
- purchase new TVMs
- upgrade existing TVMs using the OEM, or
- perform a retrofit and open up the system.
The retrofit option emerged as the clear frontrunner from a cost-benefit analysis perspective. This meant conducting a feasibility study by analysing the current TVMs. The hardware was tested, the interfaces between hardware and software components investigated, and load tests were carried out to assess future needs. The feasibility study resulted in a catalogue of required adaptations and a solid cost estimate, which enabled ZVB to finally adopt the retrofit solution.
At the same time, a business case for the TVMs showed that a significant portion of the costs for operating and maintaining the TVM machines was related to the fact that the machines were vendor locked. Spare parts could only be purchased from the OEM, while changes to the fares structure, new products, changes in the front-end or a new back-end ERP system for accounting purposes could only be implemented through the costly support of the OEM.
Therefore, it was decided to replace the entire software in the TVMs, both front and back-end, with a modular architecture, an open interface and an open-source code program so that ZVB could become vendor independent. On the hardware side, only the obsolescent components were replaced. The main computation unit was replaced with an up-to-date processor and an I/O extender allowing the additional hardware to be introduced. The bank note reader was replaced by a standard component, and an EP2-compliant bank card reader was installed in the TVM. However, many of the original parts supplied by the OEM continued to have a high enough level of availability and reliability so they could be retained in the TVM. In particular, these were mechanically-complex components such as the coin verifier, coin hoppers and the printer.
The hardware and software engineering were carried out using an external provider - Supercomputing Systems in Zurich - but the source code and intellectual property was owned by ZVB.
From 2011 onwards, ZVB replaced independently obsolescent hardware components with standard, off-the-shelf equipment to keep the TVMs up-to-date, but at a low cost enabling the operator to save several million Swiss francs. Meanwhile, the almost 20-year-old TVMs remain Switzerland’s fastest ticket machines within the Nova tariff system.
Opening the system in such a way enables an operator to respond quickly to changing customer requirements with new tariffs, new offerings, capabilities, payment and communication methods.
Typically, a retrofit project can be carried out from as little as several hundred thousand euros while saving the several million euros that a traditional replacement project would cost.
Within Switzerland, over 1000 stationary TVMs, 300 mobile TVMs and 400 staff-operated machines have already been retrofitted in this way. This has enabled Geneva, Zug and Lucerne to successfully bridge the technological and obsolescence gap until stationary and mobile TVMs become obsolescent as sales channels themselves.
The same approach is also being applied to passenger information systems and could, without doubt, also be implemented for toll gates and other vendor-locked equipment in the transport industry.