SMS or bar-code on smart-phone


In this type of system the customer sends a SMS (Short Message Service) requesting a certain fare type, usually a short letter combination, to a specific phone number. Alternatively different numbers can be allocated to different fare types and no fare specific text is required. The operator maintains a background SMS system, or contracts a third party to offer the service, which automatically issues an electronic ticket to the customer’s Smartphone immediately. These tickets usually have a limited validity, typically 60 to 90 minutes. Generally this service is only available to nationally issued SIM cards and can be used for single or multiple transport services depending on the level of system integration.

Received tickets can take a number of forms including security codes received via SMS, and one dimensional linear barcodes or two dimensional barcodes received via MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) or GPRS. Validation methods depend on the form of ticket. Security codes require visual inspection, typing into a keypad, or the use of camera based OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software or other text scanning technologies. OCR applications are widely available for download and allow for image based text to be converted into computer readable text format. This type of validation can occur locally within the reader unit or via wireless connection to a remote server. Due to potential signal failure and slower transaction times, wireless connection is less favourable. In some systems the text code contains all relevant information for instant reader validation and continuous wireless connection is not necessary. In local validation of barcode based tickets the image text contains encrypted data which is read by the scanner system to indicate validity.

Typical transaction time for automatic local validation is less than 0.5 seconds. Some SMS scanning technologies are multi-purpose and capable of scanning paper tickets also. Whether validation occurs locally or requires continuous wireless connection, information must be transferred to the control centre for accounting purposes and this is usually done via wireless LAN or GPRS. Reader units can be installed in-vehicle, on platforms or at turnstiles. In-vehicle systems can be stand alone with embedded wireless capability, or they can be integrated with the on-board computer which allows access to in-vehicle wireless LAN or other radio systems for data transfer.

In addition to their use for ticketing, barcodes can also be used to provide passenger information to smartphone users. This refers to the use of 2D barcodes which can be read using downloadable smartphone software applications which are widely available. Once installed, the phone is capable of reading 2D barcodes at various locations, for example a 2D barcode on a bus stop which provide service schedule information.


  • Fare collection
  • Traveller Information

Benefits and cautions

SMS based systems provide a cheap method of fare collection which is very convenient for passengers, reduces the need for ticket machine infrastructure, reduces cash handling expenses and disposable ticket use. It is potentially a very cheap option given the lack of physical infrastructure required, but because it will almost always be implemented as a complementary measure, this may not be such a major factor. These systems can be expensive to set up in their own right and revenue division with third party operators and mobile network providers can become an issue in terms of the cost effectiveness of such a scheme. SMS type ticket systems are the cheapest to implement and are able to provide secure local validation, as such, this method may be the most efficient.

Relevant Case Studies

Not observed in the Case Studies

Relevant examples in Prague, Czech Republic; Gothenberg and Stockholm, Sweden; Japanese cities