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Integrated ticketing system for public transport

The concept of integrated ticketing system in public transportation revolutionises the way users access various modes of transport through a unified platform, such as mobile apps or mobility cards. This system, embraced by cities worldwide like London and Hong Kong, relies on cashless transactions for its seamless operation. Recently, CUMTA unveiled plans to introduce a QR code-based cashless ticketing system for metro rail, MTC buses, and suburban rail services in Chennai. This initiative includes a mobile app for ticket booking, journey planning, and real-time transport updates.

One key benefit of an integrated cashless ticketing system is enhanced data collection. The system facilitates comprehensive data gathering on travel routes, enabling better route optimization based on demand patterns. It also ensures seamless travel experience for users as they can transition between different transport modes without delays, ensuring efficient travel. While integrated ticketing systems in public transportation offer significant advantages, it's essential to approach their implementation with careful consideration to certain aspects, to guarantee their success.

Questions to consider

Equity and Inclusion 

How accessible is this technology to various demographic groups, especially those with limited tech literacy or lacking smartphones and bank accounts?

The prerequisite for utilising this app-based cashless ticketing system is ownership of a smartphone with an active data plan. While many individuals possess smartphones and favour the convenience of transactions via UPI, it's essential to consider who relies on these transportation modes and whether they have the means to access cashless ticketing systems.

In our country, public transportation, such as buses and suburban rail, primarily serves low-income individuals who use it for their daily commute. Many low-income individuals may lack smartphones, preventing their use of the integrated ticketing app. A study by Global System for Mobile Communications Association found that more than 134 million people in India cannot afford even one of the cheapest internet-enabled handsets available. In the case of Chennai metro, the users might be from a relatively higher income group compared to other public transport options, due to its higher ticket prices. A study found that 52% of respondents using the Chennai metro were aged between 18 and 24, with 39% being employed and 34% being students. This younger commuter profile could be attributed to the level of technical skill required for navigating metro ticketing and wayfinding systems, which the older generations might find challenging. Similarly, even among smartphone owners, older adults may struggle with using the common ticketing app, finding it challenging to efficiently book tickets and navigate its features. A study titled ‘Navigating Uncharted Territories- Accessing Public Transport Information in Chennai’ by CAG found that only  24% of the respondents used the internet to find information on public transit and only 4% used a mobile-based application (app). Moreover, not everyone opts for a mobile data plan, and even if they do, network issues can hinder the system's efficiency. 

Introducing a cashless system also necessitates individuals to have bank accounts linked to UPI systems or e-wallets for online payment of tickets through integrated ticketing apps. Additionally, the fares for ordinary buses and suburban trains are typically low, making cash a preferred choice for public transport fares, due to the convenience of handling physical currency, especially for small amounts. A study by RBI found that cash is the preferred mode of payment for smaller amounts up to 500 rupees. 


What must be done to enhance accessibility and interchangeability between transport modes?

The primary objective behind implementing an integrated ticketing system is to facilitate seamless travel across various public transport modes. To achieve this, we must ensure that the bus stops, metro stations and suburban railway stations are in close proximity to each other for the users to interchange between these modes. Adequate provision of pedestrian pathways and infrastructure is also essential to facilitate access to these public transport modes, thereby guaranteeing seamless first and last mile connectivity.

While the app promises a journey planner, offering travel options across different modes, the tracking system's accuracy, particularly for buses, is paramount. Inaccuracies could lead to delays, prompting passengers to opt for alternative modes like paratransit, undermining the system's efficiency. Furthermore, without precise tracking, prolonged wait times may result in expiry of QR code-based ticket validity time, which is currently 120 minutes in case of Chennai metro, further complicating matters.

Technical Challenges

Can the system address technical issues such as network connectivity problems and fraudulent activities involving QR codes?

Technical issues must be addressed adequately to ensure the seamless functioning of the integrated ticketing app, pivotal for its success. It is imperative that the app operates without any glitches during ticket bookings and other transactions. CUMTA's plan to install ticketing machines at entry and exit points of buses and suburban trains raises concerns about ticket verification methods. Especially in the case of buses, will every passenger need to scan QR codes before boarding? Such a process could increase wait times and potentially exacerbate crowding issues onboard buses. One way could be to verify the QR codes using handheld machines by the bus conductors. There might also be cases of people trying to book tickets only on seeing the ticketing inspector. Additionally, a major concern lies in preventing the circulation of fraudulent QR codes. The ticket scanners must possess robust mechanisms to identify and reject such counterfeit tickets to maintain integrity and security.


While the shift towards integrated ticketing for public transit systems shows promise, it's crucial to address various considerations for its success. This includes expanding bus fleets to control overcrowding, improving maintenance standards, and conducting thorough surveys to understand passenger demographics and preferences. Ensuring digital literacy and technological education for all segments of society is imperative for the widespread adoption of such systems. By carefully navigating these challenges, the transition to integrated cashless ticketing for public transport can enhance efficiency and accessibility for all.

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