The Computerworld Honors Program
Honoring those who use Information Technology to benefit society
LOCATION:
Amersfoort, NL

YEAR:
2007

STATUS:
Laureate

CATEGORY:
Transportation

NOMINATING COMPANY:
Accenture

ORGANIZATION:
Trans Link Systems

PROJECT NAME:
Trans Link Systems smart card (OV-chipkaart)

Short Summary
In 2007, Greater Rotterdam area and Amsterdam in the Netherlands will become the first areas anywhere in the world where users of public transit have “single-card access” to all forms of public transportation—bus, metro, tram and train. By 2009 commuters across the whole country will enjoy similar advantages.

These benefits—an almost incalculable asset to citizens and transport—are the result of a ground-breaking electronic payment (“smart card”) system for public transportation pioneered by Trans Link Systems (TLS) and brought to life by the unique collaboration of Accenture, Thales, Vialis, MTR Corporation and Octopus Cards.

The smart card, (OV-chipkaart), is basically a contact-less card that is simply waved in front of an electronic reader at transportation entry points. Via the card, safe and quick access is effected, with fees deducted from the card’s “loaded balance” or through travel products e.g. payment for a single trip or seasonal tickets which are loaded onto the OV-chipkaart.

Financial convenience for customers is only the tip of the benefits iceberg. This is because the hassle of obtaining separate tickets for each mode of transport is also eliminated. The OV-chipkaart also streamlines traffic flow through entry points. Personal security is enhanced because lost or stolen cards can easily be traced and cancelled. Lastly, data acquired through the card can help the public transport operators continuously improve their service. All in all, the card is safer, faster and more convenient for customers.

For transport operators, the system offers a better way to manage passengers and finances because it gives insight in the need for manpower, equipment and maintenance. It also reduces the cost of printing paper tickets, reduces fare evasions and lessens congestion. Clearing and settling funds across operators is performed fast and accurately by Trans Links Systems.


Introductory Overview
The quest to create a smart card that allows transit users to travel seamlessly across all of a country’s modes of public transport was not achieved until recently. This breakthrough was achieved by Trans Link Systems—a joint venture formed in 2001 by five Dutch transit agencies: Connexxion, the trans-regional bus service, GVB (Amsterdam), HTM (The Hague), the NS (Dutch Railway Company) and the RET (Rotterdam). These companies provide more than 80% of Dutch public transport services. As an independent governing body, Trans Link Systems’ focused on implementing a ‘smart card’ system for public transport that can be used on the bus, train, tram and subway.

Prior to the creation of Trans Link Systems, several other smart card initiatives fell short. Principal reasons included immense technology challenges and the difficulty associated with establishing consensus among stakeholders (eg. nearly 15 public transport operators, almost 20 regional transport authorities) across the Netherlands. Trans Link Systems succeeded in these areas.


The initiative began in 2001 (Trans Link Systems founded) and was formalized after the public tender in 2003, when Trans Link Systems teamed with an international consortium including Accenture, Thales, Vialis, MTR Corporation and Octopus Cards. Accenture provided program management expertise, integrated the system's technology infrastructure and coordinated system delivery. Accenture also set up and managed the system's operational services organization (e.g., for clearing and settling revenue) until Trans Link Systems was ready to take over in mid-2006. Thales designed, and helped implement, the integrated fare-collection system. Vialis installed the system's physical infrastructure, such as smart card readers (validators) and ticketing and fare machines, and is responsible for their maintenance. MTRC and Octopus Cards provided additional expertise in operational services.

Technology challenges faced by Accenture, Thales, Vialis, MTR and Octopus were extensive. As program manager, Accenture was responsible for the integration of numerous platforms, operating systems and applications, including XML, Oracle database with data warehousing, Oracle SQL Plus/SQL, UNIX, Apache Ant, OO, CSS, HTML, JSP and ITIL. Alignment of more than 50 different fare products and more than 60 transaction rules were required—making this one of the most complex e-ticketing systems globally. Also, the system’s flexibility had to accommodate the varying specifications to which transit company systems and ticket gates had already been built. Toward this end, an open architecture design was used to make it easier for other suppliers to join, and for Trans Link Systems to modify or scale.

Another hurdle was linking the central clearing-house system to the systems of each transport operator and financial institution. As designed, the clearing-house system receives all the data created by the various operators. The system then allocates payments across each transport company, manages the automatic uploading of the smart card, and registers/deregisters valid/invalid cards.

Just as daunting was reconciling the technical, political, cultural and business requirements of the participating agencies. To this end, workshops and meetings were facilitated, and progress reports and key issues were shared with Trans Link Systems’ decision makers, public transport operators and financial institutions. Business model and use-case scenarios were created and aligned under Accenture's guidance.

In 2005, the OV-chipkaart became available to the first passengers, combining the services of the first three of the five major public transport companies, connecting NS (Dutch Railway Company), RET (Rotterdam's public transit system), and Connexxion (the trans-regional bus service) into a single integrated system that links 10 railway stations, 47 metro stations and 150 busses. Ultimately, the card will be extended for use on all trains, busses, subways and trams throughout the Netherlands. The system is expected to handle 1.4 billion trips per year and clear/settle an estimated €2.5 billion (($3.2 billion USD) annually.


Benefits
Has your project helped those it was designed to help?   Yes

What new advantage or opportunity does your project provide to people?
The project has been an unqualified success with significant benefits for Dutch commuters and the public transport companies.

The new system’s benefits to passengers and the country’s public transport authorities and operators are indisputable. On the customer side, the OV-chipkaart can be “loaded” with e-purse or products at machines in transit stations or they can be linked to the cardholder's bank account— value is added automatically to the OV-chipkaart via a direct debit instruction to the bank when the value of the card reaches a specified minimum. The result is a speedier and more convenient way for commuters to pay fares for all modes of travel. When boarding trains, busses or trams, passengers place their cards in front of an electronic reader and have their fares calculated and deducted from their e-purse on the OV-chipkaart. The system ensures all fares are credited to the appropriate transport company. Lost or stolen cards can be easily traced and cancelled.

Has your project fundamentally changed how tasks are performed?   Yes

How do you see your project's innovation benefiting other applications, organizations, or global communities?
For the transport operators, the system represents a better way to manage passenger flow and finances. For example, it gives insight into the need for manpower, equipment and maintenance, allowing a focus on service. Operational processes, such as clearing and settling funds among transport operators, can be performed faster and more accurately—even though as many as five million daily transactions will be handled once the system is fully implemented. Lastly, the system reduces fare evasions and decreases congestion because only OV-chipkaart holders are able to proceed onto platforms. It seems likely, therefore, that the combination of convenience, speed and improved safety will motivate more people to use public transport.

Beneficiaries—customers, corporations and communities—speak directly to the system’s exceptional success. Widespread collaboration and innovative use of technology are key parts of the picture: helping to create a country-wide asset from which every participant benefits.

The Importance of Technology
How did the technology you used contribute to this project and why was it important?
The new system incorporates the latest generation of Thales equipment: secured metro contact-less access gates, ticket vending machines, point-of-sale terminals, and validators for busses.

One of Trans Link Systems’ highest priorities was to ensure that the system’s flexibility would be great enough to accommodate the many specifications to which any transit operator’s systems and equipment had been built. Toward this end, the entire system was developed using an open architecture—computer/software architecture that is receptive to adding, upgrading and swapping of components. The “Specification Documentation on Open Architecture (SDOA)” is used to ensure that other suppliers can join the process, thereby avoiding supplier lock-in. SDOA also makes it possible to easily modify or scale the system to meet changes in service demands, to add services and to integrate with new providers.

The scope of the integration challenge was significant: Accenture’s integration of platforms, operating systems and applications included XML, Oracle database with data warehousing, Oracle SQL Plus/SQL, UNIX, Apache Ant, OO, CSS, HTML, JSP and ITIL. Dramatic technology integration challenges were also evidenced by the need to tie the central clearing-house system to the systems of each transport operator and financial institution.

All devices can communicate with the smart cards in a secure and encrypted manner. More than 50 different fare products have been programmed into the system, nearly all of which can be used across multiple public transport operators. With more than 60 transaction rules, this is one of the most complex e-ticketing systems in the world.

The smart card itself has 4K of memory, transaction time of less than 250 milliseconds and can operate in proximity of 10 centimeters. The chips use Mifare technology from Royal Philips Electronics of the Netherlands.


Originality
What are the exceptional aspects of your project?
By 2009, the OV-chipkaart will be the only valid “ticket” for public transportation in the Netherlands. At that point, these cards will be enabling about 1.4 billion trips per year, with an estimated annual value of €2.5 billion ($3.2 billion USD).

How is it original?
This is one of the first smart card programs to go beyond typical city-centric fare-system implementations. The system thus represents a landmark in public transportation. It is being closely watched around the globe with serious interest already shown by governments in Canada and Denmark. The independent governance model and collaboration with an industrial consortium are unique for such a large-scale public-transport project

Is it the first, the only, the best or the most effective application of its kind?   All of the above

Success
Has your project achieved or exceeded its goals?   Exceeded

Is it fully operational?   No

How many people benefit from it?   Millions

If possible, include an example of how the project has benefited a specific individual, enterprise or organization. Please include personal quotes from individuals who have directly benefited from your work.
The roll out of the entire project is staged into three different phases: Phase One, which involved the distribution of approximately 15,000 smart cards (out of an expected total 10 million cards) was finalised by the end of 2005. This phase involved testing the system (including the fully functional back-office operation) in the city of Rotterdam with the entire RET metro network and 150 busses in the Hoekse Waard and Voorne Putten.
In Phase Two (spring 2006), the system was expanded to include trains (NS) traveling between Hoek van Holland and Rotterdam. In the summer of 2006 the system was also connected to the metro in Amsterdam (in total a number of more than 100,000 cards were distributed by that time). As it expands, more travelers and transport companies in the Netherlands will take advantage of the system's many benefits, including services such as tracing lost or stolen cards, clearing and settlement, refunds, and a customer service call center and website. Based on the results of the final test in Phase Two (expected in April 2007, with a total of approximately 300,000 cards distributed), the program will move into Phase Three and full roll-out throughout the Netherlands.

It is not a stretch to say that the entire Dutch population—nearly 17 million people—could benefit from the system. As noted in Section 3, significant advantages also accrue to the country’s transport operators.

Jeroen Kok, CEO, Trans Link Systems says: “The passenger benefits; that’s what it is all about. And the idea is very simple: one ticket for all public transport modes. It is a very easy thought, but that is all it is.”



How quickly has your targeted audience of users embraced your innovation? Or, how rapidly do you predict they will?
The roll out of the entire project is staged into three different phases: Phase One, which involved the distribution of approximately 15,000 smart cards (out of an expected total 10 million cards) was finalised by the end of 2005. This phase involved testing the system (including the fully functional back-office operation) in the city of Rotterdam with the entire RET metro network and 150 busses in the Hoekse Waard and Voorne Putten.
In Phase Two (spring 2006), the system was expanded to include trains (NS) traveling between Hoek van Holland and Rotterdam. In the summer of 2006 the system was also connected to the metro in Amsterdam (in total a number of more than 100,000 cards were distributed by that time). As it expands, more travelers and transport companies in the Netherlands will take advantage of the system's many benefits, including services such as tracing lost or stolen cards, clearing and settlement, refunds, and a customer service call center and website. Based on the results of the final test in Phase Two (expected in April 2007, with a total of approximately 300,000 cards distributed), the program will move into Phase Three and full roll-out throughout the Netherlands.

It is not a stretch to say that the entire Dutch population—nearly 17 million people—could benefit from the system. As noted in Section 3, significant advantages also accrue to the country’s transport operators.

Jeroen Kok, CEO, Trans Link Systems says: “The passenger benefits; that’s what it is all about. And the idea is very simple: one ticket for all public transport modes. It is a very easy thought, but that is all it is.”



Difficulty
What were the most important obstacles that had to be overcome in order for your work to be successful? Technical problems? Resources? Expertise? Organizational problems?
Trans Link Systems' smart card operation is extremely complex and involves the integration of numerous technology systems. As a measure of the system's complexity, more than 50 different fare products had to be programmed into the system, as well as more than 60 transaction rules. The system has to accommodate for the fact that ticket gates at stations in different cities were built to different specifications. There were many unanticipated challenges. For example, fears about potential vandalism required a redesign of the plastic covers of electronic readers. Developers had to alter the card readers' laser beams when, during testing, rain and snow interfered with the ability to function.

Just as important as the technical difficulties—and as daunting—was the high-level challenge of coordinating and managing the activities of the consortium member companies that designed, built, tested, deployed and are operating the landmark system. That challenge was matched by the task of negotiating the sometimes conflicting needs of the five major public transport companies involved.

Many of the initiative’s challenges were also cultural/political—reconciling the priorities and change issues of the specific participating agencies. To make this happen, workshops and meetings were carefully facilitated. Progress reports and key issues were diligently shared among all stakeholders. Business model and use-case scenarios also were created and aligned to ensure full understanding and acceptance across all involved parties.


Often the most innovative projects encounter the greatest resistance when they are originally proposed. If you had to fight for approval or funding, please provide a summary of the objections you faced and how you overcame them.
As noted previously, several smart card initiatives had been launched prior to the creation of Trans Link Systems, but they all fell short. So when the country’s five largest operators approached Jeroen Kok—who was then responsible for public–private partnerships for the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, and asked him to head yet another attempt, he laid out some strict conditions. The governing company, he told them, would have to be an independent company, and the five transport operators— Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the national train service; Connexxion, the trans-regional bus service; GVB, Amsterdam’s public transport operator; RET, Rotterdam’s public transit system; and HTM, the public transport group for The Hague—would have to take joint responsibility as shareholders and providers of capital. If the company’s corporate governance was right, Kok reasoned, its chances for success would improve, and the other public transport operators, whose long-term cooperation in a nationwide system was obviously essential, would be more likely to come on board.”
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