Electronic Ticket (issuing) Machines (ETMs) are machines with computer processers and memory, which issue tickets for travel. While they vary in size and configuration, the basic elements are:
- Memory (fare table, rules, transaction data)
- Buttons, keys or touch-screen (to select ticket options and fares)
- Display (single or multi-line, screen)
- Ticket printer device (motorised, dot-matrix or thermal)
- Power source (battery, electrical supply)
- Communications port (to transfer transaction and other data, to communicate with other devices)
ETMs are either designed for in-vehicle use, as fixed or handheld units, or for use at stations and other off-bus locations in the form of electronic kiosks. In-vehicle fixed electronic ticket machines (ETM) are most commonly used on bus services, although they can also be used on other transport services. They are usually intended for cash-based systems, although some systems are designed to also accept non-cash forms of payment (e.g. vouchers).
In the typical mode of operation, fare products, fare rules and prices (e.g. as fare tables) are stored in the ETM memory. The buttons, keys or touch-screen zones are configured to various functions, ticket types, fare values, etc. The driver or conductor selects functions, ticket types and fares according to the customer’s request, and the ticket is issued by the ETM. A transaction record is created and stored, and cumulative counters are incremented. In addition to issuing tickets for cash, ETMs usually have the facility to record various categories of prepaid tickets and passes, and to issue a range of supplemental tickets. Most ETMs have management and reconciliation functions to assist the driver/conductor in both administrative functions and cash reconciliation at various stages of the working day.
ETMs are frequently utilized as a core (or ‘master’) ITS device on the vehicle. In this mode, they host a network on the bus and effectively act as the on-board computer. They may host the configuration data for the other devices, and receive and store their transaction data.
The functionality and mode of operation of ETMs are extensively described in the Case Studies for Dublin, Karnataka State and Sri Lanka in the Fare Collection Toolkit, which provides a comprehensive description of the market range.
In developed countries, ETMs are often implemented within systems that accept exact fare only (or more precisely, accept any payment equal to or in excess of the applicable tariff, but do not give change). The ETMs may be electronically connected to a fare-box, into which the customers place the cash when purchasing tickets from the driver. The driver issues the ticket using the ETM, the cash falls into the fare-box and a paper ticket is produced for the passenger. Where the cash sum used exceeds the fare price, a supplementary receipt may be produced which can be used to claim reimbursement from the service provider at a later date.
Older versions of ETMs and farebox systems have extensive back-office requirements in the form of cash transfer, handling, management and reconciliation, as well as limited ETM integration. Newer systems operate in the same way as older systems from the passenger point of view, but are more technologically equipped and remove much of the back office burden. In these systems the ETM has greater memory capacity allowing internal storage of route and fare information. in terms of information transfer, route information can be automatically updated when the driver makes the route selection on the ETM at the start of the shift/trip, and software updates or data uploads and downloads can be transmitted wirelessly, generally using wireless local area connection, to the control centre when service coverage is available. Fare-boxes themselves can automatically count cash, and can contain an embedded electronic tag with a unique identification number. The electronic tag holds a record of driver-shift events, as supplied from the ETM, in addition to the unique fare-box ID. When fare-boxes are emptied, a reader scans its electronic tag and knows which vehicle the unit belongs to and which drivers are accountable for which proportion of income.
In-vehicle wall mounted ETMs are also available. These systems can be cash or non-cash payment systems accepting credit/debit cards and issuing magnetic stripe tickets. They tend to be connected to the on-board computer system which provides route data and facilitates data communications via wireless LAN or GSM/GPRS.
In-vehicle ticket sales can also be undertaken by ticket vendors operating handheld electronic ticket issuing machines. These are used mainly for longer-distance rail journeys due to the time requirement for vendors to go through carriages. Data is recorded within these devices so that at the end of a shift the units can be connected to a computer system to download the information. Through this computer connection, data can be transferred directly to a central management computer system. Often these machines are also used for ticket validation as well as ticket issuing. This increases the time it takes for vendors to go through carriages and reduces the potential for application to busy intra-regional transport services. In addition, this type of system, like other in-vehicle methods of ticket issuing, is generally restricted to cash transactions, unable to accept credit/debit card payment due a lack of continuous wireless internet connection. This though does not apply to all cases and is changing with improvements in wireless technologies.
Electronic ticket issuing machines provided at stations, stops or terminals tend to be kiosk type systems using keypad or touch screen type user interfaces. The passenger is displayed route information and provided a choice of fare types. These units can be dedicated electronic ticket issuing machines or multifunctional systems offering additional passenger information or infotainment functions. Ticket services generally include the provision of short-lifespan magnetic stripe tickets, top-up facilities for Smartcards and a ticket validation function, and tend to accept cash and credit/debit cards. Off-vehicle systems are usually connected to an in-station computer system (wired or wireless connection) which is connected to central accounting and statistical management computer system at a control centre.
- Fare collection, ticket provision and validation services.
- Management of other in-vehicle devices, both for fare collection (e.g. smart card readers) and for other functions (e.g. information displays)
- Operations management through the provision of service usage statistics.
Benefits and cautions
Modern electronic ticket issuing machines have reduced much of the back office management and handling requirements relating to ticketing. Automatic cash counting and transaction tracking has reduced the level of labor needed as well as the potential for fraud or theft. Increasingly, service providers seek to move away from short lifespan paper type tickets and towards paperless Smartcard systems with top-up provision. Despite this move, infrequent and one-off customers account for a significant percentage of passengers, and short lifespan tickets are needed to cater for them. The development of SMS and barcode ticket are gaining popularity though, as these can effectively serve this market segment in a way that further increases paperless transport use and reduces cash handling. While effective, this method has also not been able to fully remove the need for paper tickets and the associated infrastructural requirement. Similarly, there has been consistent development of wireless communications to facilitate increased use of credit/debit cards as well as online payment systems, which is also helping to reduce cash handling.
Relevant case studies (please refer to Fare Collection Toolkit)
Dublin, Karnataka State, Sri Lanka
(other relevant examples: Hong Kong, London, Paris)