Rail companies roll out barcode ticket standard

We don't need no stinkin' NFC

The UK's rail operators have agreed to adopt a national standard for electronic tickets with bar-codes, opening the way for train tickets on mobile phones to be accepted everywhere.

Following successful trails with various train companies Masabi has worked with the Rail Settlement plan - the body that cross charges networks for ticketing to create an open standard for train tickets carrying bar codes to be accepted across rail franchises - enabling tickets to be printed out at home, or even displayed on mobile-phone screens, and used on journeys between network operators.

Selling tickets is an expensive part of running a rail franchise, and nearly 90 per cent of tickets are still sold at stations using ticket machines or at traditional windows.

Trials run by Masabi, who specialise in rendering bar-code information on phone screens, have apparently demonstrated that customers will happily buy tickets using their mobile phone - either while travelling to, or on arrival at, the railway station. Masabi's Java application stores the customer's credit card details locally, so the user just keys in the three-digit code from the back of their card along with origin and destination, and the ticket is bought and delivered over SMS or data connection where available.

But the standard also allows for bar codes to be rendered on other devices, or printed out after being bought on-line. Ticket inspectors will need to be equipped with bar-code readers, of course, but many are already sporting the technology and the standard has been devised in such a way that the last eight digits can be manually entered and checked on-line if necessary. Where a bar-code reader is used it shouldn't be necessary to perform an on-line verification as the 2D bar code contains authenticated details of the journey paid for.

The service does open up the opportunity to have one's phone poised, ready to buy a ticket should an inspector turn up, but you'll have to ensure you're are in the middle of a long carriage for that plan - as being dependent on timely SMS delivery to avoid a fine is not a good position to be in.®

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