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Ticketless travel: BONNsmart is slow to get going

Ticketless travel : BONNsmart is slow to get going

Stadtwerke Bonn have been testing ticketless travel since the springtime. The system is running stably, but demand has been lukewarm so far.

Since the spring, the Stadtwerke have been offering contactless travel with BONNsmart on their routes (as reported by the GA). Passengers simply have to hold their EC or credit card up to a reader on the bus or train when getting on or off. At the end of the day, a computer automatically calculates the cheapest fare. However, it is important to identify yourself both at the beginning and end of the journey, as well as when changing to another bus or train.

The Stadtwerke have since made their initial experiences with the new service. “At the moment, ticket sales are in the four-digit range and steadily increasing,” says SWB spokeswoman Stefanie Zießnitz. “It was clear to us from the beginning that a new offer needs time to establish itself. We were expecting that.”

Since a large proportion of Bonn's local transport users are season ticket holders, the offer is “primarily aimed at occasional passengers who travel on the spur of the moment.” But also at tourists who are familiar with offers like BONNsmart from big cities abroad. “The fact that demand in a pandemic is limited was to be expected,” she adds. Nevertheless, the Stadtwerke is satisfied with how the practice tests have gone. No weak points have emerged so far. “The system is running stably,” says Zießnitz, taking stock.

Unique system in Germany

BONNsmart is so far the only one of its kind in Germany. To test whether the service can be transferred to other transport companies as well, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is subsidising the project with around 500,000 Euro. This makes Bonn the first German city with a billing system for contactless and mobile check-in and check-out on buses and trains. For this, all 230 buses and around 100 trains have been equipped with the so-called ‘validators’. These are the reading devices which the passengers use for checking in. Just like at the supermarket checkout, the passenger simply holds their method of payment, which must have an NFC chip, in front of the reader. A green tick immediately appears on the screen and an acoustic signal confirms successful registration. The Stadtwerke are now thinking about expanding the system. In future, ‘smart’ weekly and monthly tickets will also be able for purchase, as will tickets for bicycles.

“Our aim is to offer our customers the most flexible payment options possible and therefore to reduce entry barriers to public transport. The focus of this funding project is to make public transport simple to use, without requiring knowledge of the tariffs, without using vending machines, without needing small change and without paper tickets. We want to successively serve more customer groups who have avoided public transport so far,” emphasises the spokeswoman.

Concerns about security

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the new technology. “I'd rather wait and see,” says Raimund Pleeze, who is waiting at the bus station. “I first want to be sure that the system is really secure. After all I am allowing my account to be accessed. How well am I protected against hackers? We have just seen what happened after a cyber-attack in Sweden,” says the 69-year-old, remaining sceptical. However, the Stadtwerke assure that contactless payment is just as secure as using cash. “The card information is protected with a PIN and is encrypted and transmitted anonymously. It's just as secure with a smartphone or smartwatch: Here, the real card number is not stored on the device,” it says on the company's homepage.

Marc Hannschorn is not worried about that. "No," he says. It's an amazing thing. “I have used it several times,” he says. “The handling is very easy, the billing is correct. The system is not only easy to use, but it also saves a lot of time. And there’s no need to search annoyingly for small change,” he adds.

At the moment, the new system is only available on the Stadtwerke bus and train lines. Lines 16 and 18 are excluded from the service, as they are co-operated by the KVB in Cologne, who is not involved in the project. BONNsmart is also not used on bus line 637, which is operated by RVK. For this reason, the Stadtwerke currently recommends that anyone wanting to travel beyond the city limits buys a printed ticket from the machine. However, the aim is to involve other transport operators in the future. But this is still a long way off. It will only be discussed when the state-funded pilot project comes to an end (31 December 2022).

Further information is available at www.bonnsmart.de

(Original text: Gabriele Immenkeppel, Translation: Caroline Kusch)