Traveling without moving (your digits)

Radesign – radical redesign.

This blog post began as a product of two separate coincidences. One that happened earlier was that I while I was commuting from Hyvinkää to Helsinki, in a train, I overheard a discussion; two women were talking about life casually; and at some point the other said: “You know, this is so ridiculous… but my own parents do not take the train anymore. It’s a pity. They simply find buying the ticket too hard nowadays.” And the other replied with sympathy, saying that she totally understands it is not very easy. They were referring to the online sales of the rail tickets.

  • Why are seemingly simple things, as buying a train ticket online, so hard to do?
  • What’s with the (too) long tradition of hassle, anytime a public transport ticket system is being renewed?
  • Why often it seems that despite of high tech solutions, there are arbitrary kludgy barriers – and the price is paid by the customer?
  • Could we do better, given that we’d scrap the physical tickets altogether, and “shift” the technology out of the use case?
  • If we can shift out the visible tech from travel, how exactly would it be done? What were the pros and cons?

The second impetus for writing was that I was rather surprised by a news title, which was along the lines “Helsinki’s HSL zone renewal completed – cost 100 million euros”.

I’m a software developer by trade, and hereby acknowledge my bias towards mobile + software-based solutions being superior to having physical tokens and ticket vending machines. However, that being said, at the moment I do not have a economic stimulus to any direction, except that as a taxpayer and consumer I would like to optimize costs of infrastructure projects in general.


What I did immediately think was couple of things:

  • how much of the 100,000,000 euros is about hardware, ie. ticket gates and reader devices installed on buses, trams, subway cars and local trains?
  • is the mass transit a cost-ingesting or money producing effort for the N counties that take part in it?
  • what were the alternative scenarios, if any, in realizing (implementing) this transit ticketing system?

Honestly, it’s not even radical redesign. I just have at this point a feeling that perhaps a mighty portion of the 100 million eur could have been cut, if the design was a bit different.

The costs of the bad dual systems thinking

The main point is that digital world is often riding in a weird dual-standard world; whereas we acknowledge and seem to be seeking the benefits of virtualizing things, what in fact happens is that we end up doing the same thing (which happened before digitization) but with double the effort.

This kind of extra cost associated with combined migration + “double entry” has also been seen in

  • shift of banking to ultimately purely digital form
  • authentication solutions (identifying a legitimate user to a system); burdened by the apparent need to provide several alternative ways of identification (codes, devices, biometry, passwords, etc)
  • the world of digital documents, where still a major portion of documents are kept in paper form (for example: to make it official, or eligible for archival, a document has to be present in print form)
  • access control (keys; other tokens) whereby there’s both digital and physical keys

I don’t have yet anything to offer, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write. Writing is a tool of inquiry for me; it is an essential part of formulating technology and thinking about it.

In nutshell: Helsinki

  • Helsinki
  • Espoo
  • Vantaa
  • Kauniainen
  • Sipoo
  • Kirkkonummi

have a combined mass transit network, where one can travel flexibly – using local trains, trams, bus, ferry and subway – between or within any of the stated municipalities. The zones start from Helsinki (A-zone), and go towards the edges radially as B, C, and D zone.

Tickets – inspected: approaches and tradeoffs

A ticket is one solution to underlying problems, which need to be dealt with somehow. There has been historically 3 main approaches to fares:

  • customer buys a ticket once they are aboard the vehicle
  • ticket is bought in advance
  • the trip is paid once it is completed

Is ticket inspection by personnel required?

Can technology solve the problem of need for ticket inspection, and thus making the system fair so that no one has a possibility to do free riding at the expense of other law-abiding passengers?

Current (2019)

Historically the transit ticket mechanism evolved, throughout decades, but one thing that I still kind of see odd at this time and age is that physical cards and card readers are still present. The cards and their immediate infrastructural requirements, you see, not only count for probably quite a lion’s share of the costs, but also bother people. Cards have to be physically renewed every once and then. Yes. I know. Sounds weird. You are not the only one that has thought about the aspect.

Totally card-less system?

  • feasibility
  • architecture
  • operations and functions required
  • privacy
  • wireless networking technology needed
  • cases: GPS-only

Why HSL travel cards need to be physically replaced periodically?

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