Digital ticketing for gender-responsive bus transport systems - Hindustan Times
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Digital ticketing for gender-responsive bus transport systems

ByManisha Sharma, ,
May 14, 2024 07:07 PM IST

This article is authored by Manisha Sharma, senior programme associate, Sonal Shah, founder and Abhijeet Sengupta, consultant, The Urban Catalysts, New Delhi.

Gender-responsive public transport systems are hindered by the lack of travel, infrastructure use, and perception data based on gender, age, and ability. This gap is often addressed through tools such as household surveys, on-board, boarding-alighting surveys, user and non-user perception surveys and infrastructure assessments.

In Delhi, buses come in colours including red, indigo, orange, green, and light blue. (HT Photo)
In Delhi, buses come in colours including red, indigo, orange, green, and light blue. (HT Photo)

Public transport ticketing data can provide valuable information on the travel behaviour of commuters and address the gap in gender disaggregated data. Existing research on the use of public transport ticketing data is focused on understanding passenger travel patterns and behaviour, operational analysis, service improvement in terms of route rationalisation, or increase in frequency with little or no focus on gender differences in travel. Where gender disaggregated data on travel patterns is available, privacy laws may restrict its use. Limited analytical capabilities within public transit authorities in low-and-middle-income countries may also pose a constraint.

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The Urban Catalysts have partnered with the Delhi government in the Safe and Secure Public Transport in Delhi project. It aims to leverage the digitalisation of public transport systems, including ticketing to address service gaps and enable a safe travel experience for women and girls.

Public transport ticketing systems have evolved from manually issued pre-printed paper-based tickets to smart phone enabled QR code-based tickets.

Pre-printed paper-based tickets are manually issued. These may provide information on the number of passengers, route and bus. For example, the implementation of fare-free bus transport for women in Delhi in 2019, involved issuing pink tickets to female commuters. This has initiated a process of regular collection of gender-disaggregated data, with some concerns regarding the veracity of the data.

Electronically generated tickets are issued through ETIMs or applications such as One Delhi Application and Chalo in India. The travel details captured include origin and destination stops, fare stage, time stamp. The user details include gender of the commuter and whether a student, elderly, person with disability. In India, cities such as Bhubaneswar have initiated a process of gender tagging tickets through ETIMs and the data analysis is in progress.

Smart cards are a successor of magnetic swipe cards used by multiple cities such as New York and Chicago in the 1990s. They are powered by Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, are reusable with low maintenance costs, and can collect and store large quantities of data. Cities such as New York (SmartLink), Boston (Charlie card), Beijing (Yikatong), Hong Kong (Octopus card), and Barcelona (T-mobilitat) have adopted smart cards.

They capture travel details such as origin and destination locations, entry and exit locations and time, fares, travel history, and the locations where the card is recharged. London’s Oyster card collects commuter’s demographic data and travel data. User data includes details such as age, gender (via pronouns), disability status, and student or senior citizen identification.

In India, these cards are closed loop and predominantly used in metro rail systems such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Bengaluru, and Chennai. However, these cards do not collect any user details.

Bank cards equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) chips can also be used for public transport tickets, eliminating the need for a separate travel card. Banks cards were initiated in London in 2012, and are now available in multiple cities. In India, the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) is an example. Currently, the NCMC is operational in several metro-rail systems across Indian cities, including Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Kanpur, as well as in the city bus systems of Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad and Kadamba. Bank cards collect similar travel and user details as smart cards.

The introduction of open-loop payment systems has brought two new entities into the picture--the issuer and acquirer financial institutions or banks. The issuer refers to the bank or financial institution responsible for issuing payment cards (debit/credit cards) to users and holds the authority to approve or decline transaction requests. On the other hand, the acquirer bank is the financial institution that receives, processes, and settles transactions on behalf of the public transport authority.

Our literature review indicated that gender-disaggregated data is not consistently collected, and where available, privacy laws and the limited analytical capability of public transport authorities may limit its utilisation. For example, while Hong Kong’s Octopus card collects gender disaggregated data, its privacy policy restricts the use of the data to respond to customer grievances. Gender disaggregated data is also collected in London through Oyster cards via pronouns used to create an online account. However, there is no information available on how this information is utilised for public transport operations.

We have outlined four major entry points to outline how gender disaggregated travel data can be mainstreamed in bus-based public transport operations.

· Tag the fare media and fare equipment with age and gender of the user: Gender-disaggregated data can be collected by tagging the fare media or fare equipment. One Delhi Application- a multimodal ticketing application- requests the user to enter the gender they identify with during the registration process.

ETIMs can be coded to issue gender-tag paper-based tickets. This involves integrating an additional feature into ETIMs to input gender information, a practice implemented by the Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT) in Bhubaneswar. However, there is a need to train conductors to avoid human error while entering the tags and reduce the ticket issuing time.

· Enable data sharing by the issuing and acquiring banks:

NCMC cards collect gender and age data during registration due to user identity verification. Additionally, user information is maintained with the issuing bank in the case of a bank card.

Public transport authorities will need to include conditions to obtain age and gender data by the acquiring bank in their contracts. Simultaneously, the issuing bank will need to be mandated by relevant authorities to share this information with the acquiring bank. Subsequently, this demographic data can be correlated with the travel data system to understand commuter behaviour.

· Create a dashboard with adequate server capacity to analyse public transport use: It is crucial for public transport authorities to establish an operational dashboard with adequate server capacity to utilise the substantial volume of gender and age disaggregated travel data. Gender-responsive service parameters need to be identified to improve safety and security in bus transport operations.

Some of the applications of this data include gender-responsive first and last mile connectivity. This includes prioritising deployment of female operated first and last mile services at transit stops with higher share of female passengers; prioritising safe, accessible walking infrastructure within a walking distance of transit stops with higher share of overall and female passengers. Transit stops can be prioritised for safety improvements based on boarding and alighting data and cover the whole city in a phased manner.

Bus services can be augmented with regular, midi or mini-buses in the peak hours to prevent overcrowding. Point-to-point, women-only services in the peak hours maybe considered, depending on user and travel behaviour. Female conductors and drivers can be prioritised on routes with more female passengers.

· Increase awareness on the multimodal ticketing applications: It is imperative that users, particularly female commuters, are well-informed about the digital tools for purchasing tickets and providing feedback. A primary survey conducted with female commuters traveling in e-buses in Delhi indicated a significant lack of awareness regarding available digital tools. Merely 2% of female commuters were aware of the One Delhi application which is available since 2022. The Urban Catalysts conceptualised and is implementing a focused communication and awareness campaign to bridge the information gap among female users, especially young women. This initiative will not only enable the collection of gender-disaggregated data but also empower female commuters to articulate their concerns and preferences through the feedback mechanism.

The road to a gender responsive bus-based public transport system starts with availability of reliable commuter data, which can be supplemented with various surveys and infrastructure assessments to prioritize scarce resources for maximum impact. However, systems need to be created to ensure that gender (age and ability) disaggregated data is collected, stored, analysed and operationalised.

This article is authored by Manisha Sharma, senior programme associate, Sonal Shah, founder and Abhijeet Sengupta, consultant, The Urban Catalysts, New Delhi.

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