Sensor system could replace ticket barriers at UK railway stations

Hitachi Rail designs smart fare system for railways
Hitachi Rail is developing sensor-based technology that recognizes users’ smartphones when they begin and end their journeys, to ensure passengers are charged the correct fare. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

The common practice of transit passengers scrambling for their ticket when boarding a train could someday become obsolete. According to an online article on UK-based publication The Telegraph, railway systems manufacturer Hitachi Rail is designing a sensor-based system that, by recognizing a user’s smartphone, automatically detects when a passenger boards or departs a train. The technology would ensure that travelers are charged the correct fare.

According to the article, the firm is testing the system in northern Italy and believes it could be used on trains, buses and trams in the UK. The technology could eventually replace the need for ticket barriers.

Hitachi Rail managing director Karen Boswell was quoted as saying, "This technology has the ability to transform public transport in every corner of the country, from rural buses to city center train stations. The common travelling woes of queues at ticket machines or trying to find the cheapest fare could be solved without even needing to reach for your pocket.”

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A Hitachi Rail spokesman was quoted as saying the company has not yet decided exactly how the smartphone and sensor could interact, but one option is for passengers to install an app which would allow the sensor to detect that the person had bought a ticket.

The concept of smart ticketing is starting to catch on elsewhere. In New York City, for instance, the MTA recently announced the introduction of a contactless fare system where riders will be able to pay for their bus or rides with a tap of their phones’ mobile wallet or a bank card instead of a swipe. The system, which could eventually replace the agency’s Metrocard system, is initially being phased in on the Lexington Avenue subway and Staten Island express buses.

Passenger groups in the UK say smart ticketing is long overdue. A spokeswoman for the Rail Delivery Group was quoted as saying: "To make the most of technology and make it easier for passengers to get the best value fare, outdated fares regulation needs to be updated."

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