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Using phones instead of physical Leap Cards part of NTA's plans to shake up commuter travel

The provision of a new digital card is included in a fresh contract notice issued by the National Transport Authority.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE NATIONAL TRANSPORT Authority (NTA) has launched a new contract notice for the Leap Card, which will see the creation of a “digital card” with a future aim of allowing people to use their iOS or Android phones to pay for their travel.

It comes as part of a wider contract that would see a provider offering three different types of personalised Leap Cards to children aged 16-18, students and a “young adult” Leap Card.

An NTA spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that a move towards a simpler fare and ticketing system has been a long-time objective.

“In the coming years, NTA will incorporate the latest developments in account-based ticketing technology, allowing use of contactless credit and debit cards and mobile devices as a convenient means of payment,” the spokesperson said. 

The contract is for the establishment and operation of an online and national over-the-counter sales network for such cards.

Also included within the tender notice however are details of plans for “next generation ticketing”.

“This will involve a graduated move from the current Leap Card system to a nationwide Account-Based Ticketing system,” the NTA said.

In this context, account-based ticketing is defined as ‘a method of ticketing where the proof of entitlement to travel and any records of ticket usage are held as records in a ticketing back office and not in/on any physical media held by the passenger.

In other words, it’ll mean that mobile phones could replace physical cards in the near future.

requirements leap card

The tender features a number of phases over the course of the four-year contract, but the NTA spokesperson emphasised there is no “definitive date” for the completion of the digital aspect of the project yet. 

It is the third phase – after the rollout of a number of operational services to make sure the systems are working – that would feature the introduction of the “digital card”.

“NTA intends to introduce a digital card via a mobile phone app during the life of the contract,” it said.

Once the mobile app is developed, customers buying the Cards will be presented with the option of receiving it in an electronic format referred to as the ‘Digital Card’. To obtain the ‘Digital Card’, customers shall download from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store an application provided by the successful tenderer and shall enter the security code provided to the customer by the successful tenderer during the online application process to add the Cards into the app (or equivalent method).

In this procurement round, the NTA spokesperson said the primary intention is to have a digital proof of a person’s entitlement to access student fares.

“For example, at present you can buy an Irish Rail train ticket as a student and pay a student price but you have to show your student ID if inspected to prove that you are eligible for a student priced ticket,” the spokesperson said.

In future, should this be desired, for such an inspection the student would just open their App and display their “digital card” which would prove to the inspector that the person is a student and is therefore using the correct ticket.

The addition of using the digital card also a means of payment is not included over the length of the current contract, with the NTA flagging this to follow in the future.

Such methods of payment for transport services around major cities are not uncommon.

Travellers on London underground services can use Apple Pay or Android Pay to gain entry to its services with the price the same as their equivalent of Leap Card – the Oyster card.

The deadline for submitting a response to this contract is next month, with the NTA expecting to award the contract in April 2019.

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Sean Murray

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