Digital Travel

A couple of years ago De Lijn, Flanders public transport, introduced sms ticketing as a way to pay for your bus fare. An easy system allowing you to send an sms, and get a ticket for the price of the messages + the ticket. A bit expensive, but it’s easy. Easy for two reasons. Reason 1: No need to find exact change, buy a ticket from a vending machine while waiting behind that one person who doesn’t understand how the machine works or any other analog annoyances. And reason two: in theory one could get on the bus, and send the sms once ticket control gets on the bus.

De Lijn evolved and introduced an option to send an sms directly from their app. An easy option because plenty of travellers first use the app to find their route, and then can automatically buy a ticket. Yes, they’re a bit expensive, but so easy and convenient. To tackle those cheating the system, they recently introduced a delay in the delivery. If you send a message to get your ticket, your ticket shall only arrive after 5 minutes. More then enough time to order a ticket while waiting for the bus, but long enough so when control enters the bus, you’ll never get your ticket in time. All in all, it’s a convenient way of travelling.

But busses and trams are only one side of the public transport coin. I travel often by train to the different store locations the company I work for has across Belgium. And each and every time I either have to curse to that vending machine that’s once again not working, stand in line to get a ticket, or order one online via their website, enter my credit card and passport information and either print the ticket or use my passport as a digital ticket. That last option is quite efficient actually. You enter your ID number when ordering a ticket, and when they ask for your ticket on the train, you give your passport, they read the chip and know you bought the ticket. It’s a good system when ordering a ticket in advance, but terrible when you need a last minute ticket. Since I often jump on a train last minute and can’t always plan my next location, I can’t order online, and need to go to a ticket booth.

Two weeks ago NMBS updated their app with integrated ticket purchase. You plan your route, and an option to buy a ticket appears underneath the options. The app saves your personal and credit card information (minus the security code luckily), and upon ordering a ticket, sends you an sms with a couple of verification codes. So basically a similar system like De Lijn uses, except you pay by credit card, and not via your cellphone minutes.

So when I used this option last week, I thought just showing my iPhone to the ticket inspector would suffice. Boy was I wrong. I needed to show my passport, and it took the guy 3 minutes of typing in codes, verifying other codes. Why do they need my passport to verify that sms? If De Lijn only needs an sms, why can’t the NMBS? To make sure I’m really me? To make sure my sms is unique? They’d better integrate Passbook in their app and generate a passbook ticket send to me with a barcode to scan if they want to make sure the ticket is unique. When I replace an analog ticket with a digital solution, I do it for the convenience, the speed, and easy of use. I don’t need the extra steps, or me handing my passport to a stranger.

Nevertheless, it’s a step in a good direction. Less paper, less standing in line, and one step closer to a true digital wallet.