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As simple as can be

Released at: 03:42, 20/10/2014

As simple as can be

The ticketing system in any mixed transport network needs interoperability in both organisation and technology to make life easy for passengers.

by Do Huong

Around 90 per cent of trips in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are by motorbike. Pollution and traffic jams have put pressure on authorities and transport managers in both cities to push ahead with urban railway projects. Public transport is expected to meet up to 70 per cent of total travel demand by 2030, but the question for urban railway projects is whether people will actually use them.

Convenience & seamlessness

Even a cursory glance at the nature of Hanoi’s streets explains why most people travel by motorbike. Buses simply can’t match motorbikes for speed of travel, especially during rush hour, let alone convenience. Urban planning and transport planning in Hanoi have been poor until recently, and most people who use a motorbike simply can’t be convinced of any benefits in taking a bus.

Most Hanoians have multiple trips to make on any one day: dropping the kids of school, heading to the office, perhaps keeping a lunch appointment, stopping at the market on the way to picking up the kids after work, and then, finally, going home. Motorbikes can take them everywhere, while buses can’t. “People are smart enough to choose the most suitable form of transport,” said Dr Vu Hoai Nam, a lecturer at the National University of Civil Engineering. “Only when the bus network can provide the same level of convenience will it replace motorbikes.”

A better ticketing system would help any efforts at persuasion. The bus ticketing system in Hanoi is yet to enter the digital age. The city’s urban transport management and operations centre (Tramoc), under the Hanoi Department of Transport, has had plans to introduce digital tickets since 2008 but a pilot project in 2011 was a failure. Under the pilot, passengers purchased smart cards and pre-paid by the month or the year, with the account being debited when used. The card also collected useful data on the user’s travel habits. The reason it failed was that that the smart card was only being piloted on one route - Nhon to Giap Bat. “The smart card didn’t provide convenience bus passengers,” admitted Mr Nguyen Hoang Hai, Director of Tramoc. “We continue to study smart cards, however, to make them more convenient in the future.” 

Interoperable system

Public transport projects are now underway in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Hanoi plans to build eight urban railway lines and one bus rapid transit (BRT) line, with two urban railway lines now under construction, while Ho Chi Minh City plans six urban railway lines and one to three BRT lines, but none of the latter are being built. After the lines are completed and put into operation, the target of Hanoi authorities is to create a seamless transport system featuring rail, bus and BRT. To prepare, city authorities have approved a framework of policies and technology for e-tickets, under which tickets are the same for all modes of transport. The system can also collect data and distribute revenue accordingly.

The urban railway lines planned for Hanoi belong to different operators. Line No 1, Yen Vien - Ngoc Hoi, and Line No 2A, Cat Linh - Ha Dong, will be under Japanese ticket standards. Line No 2, Thang Long - Tran Hung Dao, plans to apply ISO:14443 standards under the Hanoi Management Authority for Urban Railways. Line No 3, Nhon - Hanoi Railway Station, is to be under the Capliso ticket standard from France. Industry insiders said that the ticketing standards should be as cohesive as possible and this is crucial to ensuring interoperability between urban railways and buses. “If not, passengers will have to buy an e-ticket for each trip and each mode of transport,” said a representative from the Department for Technology Application and Development under the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The question is how to integrate all services and transport in the long term, according to the Hanoi Department of Transport, and this requires an infrastructure management agency or public transport authority (PTA) to take on the task, but there is still no agreement on the establishment of a PTA. Transport experts said that this must happen sooner rather than later, as the new public transport lines are already under construction. Mr Nam from the National University of Civil Engineering said that such an authority should not manage the capital in public transport projects but needs to draw up plans for connecting the different modes and seek agreement between relevant parties. “The goal, in the end, is to serve passengers,” he said.

Mr Philippe Lorand, Project Director and Senior Vice President of Business Development at SNCF, France’s national State-owned railway company, recommended that local authorities set up governance to guarantee the best service for customers: equal and fair access to transport offers with equity in fares, comfort, services and safety. Examples worldwide are numerous, with a centralised authority in charge of setting and ruling on standards of operation.

Naturally, building an interoperable system that works with several standards is more complex than designing a system based on just one standard, but it should be tractable. Mr Francis Sykes, Project Director at IXXI, a French ticketing system developer, believes there needs to be an authority to manage interoperability, as the situation in Vietnam is that operators did not start at the same time and need to open up to new operators and ensure the system is truly open and independent. “Such an authority should make sure that standards are proven, such as having been used successfully in other places and that they are open enough to allow extension to new operators without needing to rely on one single supplier,” he said. “I believe this authority should look into the various interoperability solutions that exist in the world in not try to reinvent the wheel.”

Such an authority also needs to propose a universal pricing mechanism for any operator on a line, differentiated by service and timetable offerings that can measure the actual performance of each operator, then set up priorities towards improvements in operating systems. For instance, it needs to set up cheap ticketing packages from the beginning and then gradually increase prices with customer segmentation, to ensure a balance of spending and revenue for operations and the improvement of quality.

According to Mr Lorand, the strength and sustainability of a multimodal transport system relies on a full and frequent timetable. A mass modal switch to train/bus services supposes that transport modes are compliant with all customer needs. It also needs to cover immediate availability (frequent trains/times/days) and sufficient connective capacities (hubs/feeding lines locally). For example, “during off-peak times, train loading can be optimised by yield management and customer segmentation to orientate passengers on specific trains (leisure, business, commuter) with pricing differentiation,” he said. “Operational optimisation can be managed to ensure profitability: the number of carriages, discounts for reservations, and low cost trains versus comfort or sleeper trains and on-board services. Timetable management and maximum frequency will ensure traffic optimisation: multi-stops versus direct service, medium versus higher speed trains.”

“I would emphasise that revenue needs to be maximised globally on a yearly basis, as these multiple transport offerings are likely to generate demand when properly managed, to encourage modal shift to train/bus.”

Mr Philippe Lorand,
Project Director and Senior Vice President of Business Development at SNCF

“Actually, developing public transport means does not need administrative orders from the government, as citizens will see convenience and make a choice. If train tickets are expensive, for example, people may not change from using personal vehicles.”

Mr Doan Viet Dung,
Customer Director at Alstom Vietnam

“I would like to emphasise the need to adopt truly open standards, which is key to interoperability, which in turn is key to the convenience of public transport. A well designed and proven ticketing system should be flexible and allow for variable pricing and evolutions of all sorts.”

Mr Francis Sykes,
Project Director at IXXI

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