My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: JUTC to debut RFID & NFC Readable SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System in April 2013 - The Last Stand for a Cashless Society to empower the Multi-Modal Concept

Sunday, January 13, 2013

JUTC to debut RFID & NFC Readable SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System in April 2013 - The Last Stand for a Cashless Society to empower the Multi-Modal Concept

“The focus is to move to an entirely cashless system, and we will be increasing the outlets (for Cards) from the current 30 to 1,200,”

Excerpts of comments by JUTC Communications Manager, Reginald Allen, explaining the new SmarterCard System as reported in the Jamaica Observer, Friday, September 14, 2012

The GOJ (Government of Jamaica) seems to have caught Multimodal Transport System fever from former JLP Minister of Transport Mike Henry. The current Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies is not stopping at just reviving the JRC (Jamaica Railway Corporation) Passenger Train Service as reported in my blog article entitled “GOJ to revive the JRC Passenger Train Service - Minister Omar Davies' Cirque Du Soleil Worlds Away advises Railways and Islandwide JUTC Bus Service Not Fade Away”.

The JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transport Corporation) seems to be next in line for an upgrade to make it more efficient by upgrading the SmartCard Cashless Bus Ticket System as had been promised since December 2010 in “New JUTC fare collection system coming”, published  Tuesday December 7, 2010 12:36 pm, The Jamaica Gleaner.

The upgrade to the SmartCard Cashless Bus Ticket System will be named ….you’re gonna love this…..the SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System as described in “JUTC to go cashless”, published Friday, September 14, 2012 BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter, The Jamaica Observer. The official GOJ Sanctioned announcement from the Horse’s mouth can be found in the JIS (Jamaica Information Service) article “JUTC to Introduce Cash-Less System Soon”, published Tuesday, 11 September 2012 11:40 by Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS!

And if all goes according to their implementation timeline, it’ll go live in April 2013 as announced by the JUTC Board Chairman Reverend Garnet Roper in the article “JUTC's new cashless system starts April next year”, published 21st December 2012, The Jamaica Star again with official confirmation from the GOJ’s mouthpiece in “New JUTC Cashless System in April, published 21st December 2012, JIS.

The words of JUTC Chairman Rev. Garnet Roper add additional confirmation of their intent, quote: “We are anticipating the cashless system coming into effect April 2013 and we hope, before then, to put in a comprehensive marketing arrangement to advise our commuters about timetable, scheduling and so on, to make the commuting public feel that much better about taking the JUTC”.

As a part of this drive to improve the overall efficiency, the JUTC is also pushing to reduce maintenance Costs.  The JUTC is partnering with the HEART/NTA JAGAS Automotive School to have them refurbish and repair the Buses Engines and bodywork on contract as had been promised back in January 2011 as stated in “JUTC to renovate Buses here”, published Monday, January 17, 2011 by COREY ROBINSON Observer staff reporter, The Jamaica Observer.

This again as per the JUTC Chairman Reverend Garnett Roper’s comments, quote: “We made some announcements before about a plan to develop a facility at Lyndhurst Road in Kingston in partnership with JAGAS HEART, to refurbish buses completely, almost remanufacture, and it is anticipated that that facility will come into effect either February or March of 2013, the two agencies are at an advanced stage of signing off on the agreement”.

Along with the new and improved SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System, the JUTC also plans to implement a new system for Portmore residents that will allow them to park their vehicles in a central location and take the JUTC Bus to work and back home. Dubbed the “Park and Ride”, it netted millions for the JUTC during the Jamaica 50th Celebrations and was very popular among persons who like the lack of clutter due to everyone travelling on the JUTC Shuttle Bus.

This is beginning to sound a lot like the coming of the Downtown Municipal Transport Centre and the much hoped for expansion of JUTC’s (Jamaica Urban Transport Center) service islandwide as reported in my blog article entitled “JUTC and the Downtown Municipal Transport Centre - Planes, Trains & Automobiles”.

Back then at its implementation in 2002, the original SmartCard Cashless Bus Ticket System faced a lot of criticism as it relates to the cost of maintenance its implementation. The original SmartCard System cost US$4.6 million. This was for the installation of the Smart Card Readers along with the purchase of some 400,000 smart Card installation of depot readers and supporting Server Equipments as noted in “Smart' Card for JUTC Buses - after questions about economic viability”, published 04-09-2012  By McPherse Thompson, Staff Reporter, The Jamaica Gleaner.

Still it launched with a bang and was a instant hit, albeit this rather forward thinking albeit cumbersome and much loved SmartCard Cashless Bus Ticket System as described in “JUTC Smart Card a hit on first day”, published Sunday, December 15, 2002 BY OLIVIA Campbell Observer staff reporter, The Jamaica Observer did not achieve widespread adoption as had been expected. It only collects 25-30% of Bus Fares; the SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System is going for the Full 100, Mr. Lex Style!

Many Jamaicans still to this day do not like the idea of Banking. They especially dislike having to budget and end up with money tied up in a Card that can only be used on a Bus and has no other usage elsewhere. Worse, it can only be topped up at one of JUTC thirty (30) SmartCard Facilities islandwide, making it cumbersome and inflexible to fit into your schedule to remember to top up when you have other things to get done as a parent with several children travelling to school by Bus.

Thus the fact that the Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies is following through with this plan to upgrade the SmartCard Cashless Bus Ticket System with the intent to collect all Bus fares in a Cashless System is quite interesting, as the cultural hurdles are well known. Minister of Transport and Works Omar Davies may be taking his cue from the Banking Sector, which has been trying to woo more of the Unbanked to use their services via several initiatives via making going Cashless easy and convenient.

The Banking Sector is pounding out a slow and steady unmistakable drumbeat heralding the coming of a Cashless Society that being championed by JCCUL (Jamaica Cooperative Credit Union League) and FDI (Foreign Direct Investor) Mozido Jamaica Limited as described in my blog article entitled “Mozido Jamaica Limited and Mobile Payments - Plants and Zombies say the Gods must be Crazy” and my blog article entitled “JCCUL JCUES is put on hold by the BOJ - ePayment setback means Mozido has been Bewitched”.

For the Banks in the post-JDX (Jamaica Debt Exchange) era it’s a long term bid to create new revenue streams by getting more of the unbanked to have either a Bank Account or a Credit or Debit Card. To this end, they are making it easier to have a Credit Card, slowly lowering the requirements.

One such example is the JNBS (Jamaica National Building Society) eliminating the need to have a Bank Account Book and allowing you to conduct Business using your Debit Card only as noted in my blog article entitled “JNBS Introduces Swipe and Go, eliminating Bank Books - Secret of Wings for a Cashless Society in Jamaica”.

The Banks are also making it more convenient to do at-home or Banking on the go without you having to come into a branch. This they’ve achieve by introducing Mobile Banking taking advantage of the trending in Jamaica towards Blackberries and smartphones as noted in my blog article entitled “Blackberry popularity wanes as Jamaicans go smartphones - Android and Apple's Smartphone Revolution” and my Geezam Blog article entitled “Apple iPhone boosts Jamaican smartphone usage as BB goes Chapter 11 Bankruptcy”.

Their products are more palatable and convenient to one Busy lifestyle with Internet and Mobile Internet Banking options that are now slowly being enable with Cross-Banking Transfers as described in my blog article entitled “CIBC FirstCaribbean Jamaica and First Global introduce Cross-Network Banking - The Avengers for the idea of a Cashless Society and Banking Anywhere”.

In the process, the Banks are empowering e-commerce and slowly setting the stage for an App Economy as smartphone get more popular in Jamaica such as in the case of the Scotia Visa Debit Cards as described in my Geezam Blog article entitled “ScotiaBank’s VISA Debit Card – Jamaica’s Online E-Commerce Renaissance” and “How to use Scotia VISA Debit Card Online

With these ongoing changes in the Banking Sector in mind, it’s easy to understand why the Ministry of Transport and Works is pushing Cashless on JUTC Buses: increase efficient in collecting Bus Fares with the possibility that the JUTC may become self-sufficient of GOJ Subsidies and possibly begin to break even and start making profit.

The advantages such a SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System are what apparently attracted the attention of the Ministry of Transport and Works, namely:

1.      100% fare collection as you can only get on a JUTC Bus if you have a SmarterCard
2.      Increased safety for passengers and staff as there’s no money or change to handle
3.      Improve passenger flow as you’re billed from the Card with no fumbling for change to give to the Bus Driver
4.      Increase operational efficiency as it reduces the need to check off money received to ensure Bus Drivers aren’t stealing money
5.      Improve commuter incentive programmes, as it now means that commuter can be rewarded on their Cards which are personalized to them

Again taking cues from the Banking Sector, it’ll work as follows:

1.      The SmarterCard will be sold at more outlets, approximately 1,200, in a fashion akin to a phone Card with an initial fixed amount of credit based on what value SmartCard you purchased
2.      The commuter will have to do a quick registration to get the Card personalized, which will cost about JA$100.
3.      The commuter’s SmarterCard main security feature is that it’s RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and NFC (Near Field Communication) readable as described in my blog article entitled “NFC now supports Device-to-device Data Transfers – Swapping Music in the Castle of My Skin”. Thereby making it impossible to copy
4.      As the SmarterCard is really RFID and NFC Readable, the commuter can board Buses without even removing the SmarterCard from their pocket.
5.      Akin to the RFID Readable T-Tags at the Toll Plaza as the customer goes through a dual-proximity RFID/NFC Reader enabled door, it’ll read their SmarterCard. As they reach the top of the steps on boarding the Bus, a personalized Ticket stub is printed, as at that point it’s confirmed that the passengers is coming on board the JUTC Bus
6.      The Bus Ticket printed is also personalized like the SmarterCard; it has the name of the commuter, the SmarterCard Number, their route, Bus Number, Time and Date and a Count number printed on it, in case there is any confusion as to who’s Ticket was printed.
7.      The Bus Tickets’ll be printed in Black and White using a Thermal Printer that prints on Thermal Paper, which are easier to maintain than Printers that use ink

The SmarterCard cloning on the Toll Plaza T-Tag payment method infused with concepts borrowed from the Banking Sector will make boarding a JUTC Bus more efficient, safer and improves passenger flow. But it’s the means by which you can top up the SmarterCard and how the JUTC plans to keep track of their Fare Collection system that had caught my eye, as it’s Telecoms related.

In fact, in the future it’s tied into the plans for using the 700MHz Spectrum to provision 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) as laid out by Minister of Science Technology Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell as described in my blog article entitled “Phillip Paulwell allocates 700Mhz and Fiber Optic License for LTE - Broadcasters effectively on notice for Digital Switch Over” as I shall explain below.

The commuter can top up the SmarterCard either by:

1.      Going to one of the 1,200 outlets and top up using their VISA Debit Cards, Credit Cards or using Cash
2.      Going online on a Laptop, PC (Personal computer), smartphone or Tablet and top up using their VISA Debit Cards, Credit Cards or using Cash.

An alternative convenient form factor for the SmarterCard may also be a RFID/NFC Sticker, which parents can attach to their youngest child’s bag, lunchpail or smartphone (Blackberry and simpler feature phones are popular now with little ones!), enableing them to travel on their own.

As the Card has NFC, this makes it an option for payment as well. Commuters can then use the Card to purchase food, accessories and snacks at the food outlets in the Bus Center at merchants that have NFC Readers.  The SmarterCard is also a great way to reward commuters who are frequent user.

Winner of promotions or prizes on offer by the JUTC could receive their notification of winning via the Ticket stub or even when they go to one of the 1,200 outlets or online on their JUTC account to top up. Prize money may also be paid out to the SmarterCard, which they can then use as spendable Cash in a manner similar to a Debit or Credit Card at merchants that sign on to accept payment via NFC Reader.

Keeping track of Bus Ticket sales and travel metrics such as the most commuted Routes or travel statistics via Gender would also be easier with the SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System. Usually at the end of the day, Bus Ticket sales have to be check off against the amount of money in the till, a procedure similar to generating an x-report for a SHARP Cash Register to check off the amount of money each clerk has made for the day and if any money’s missing.

With the new SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System, this process becomes more like the POS (Point of Sales) Cash Registers; it’s automatically done over the Wireless Internet, as most likely the SmarterCard will enable Remote Access to each SmarterCard Terminal in each Bus. Thus the possibility of the introduction of Wireless Broadband Internet via Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11n) on the JUTC Buses powered by 4G LTE provided for customer on long commutes remains a strong possibility.

Such a service is similar to airplane Wi-Fi as described in my blog article entitled “Qualcomm to create Airplane Wi-Fi named Next Gen-AG using 500MHz of unused 14GHz spectrum - 300MBps in the Mile High Club” and “Honeywell partners with Immarsat for In-Flight Satellite Broadband in 2013AD - Konshens Gal a Bubble for Qualcomm Aiprlane Broadband” and can be used to provide Remote Tracking and monitoring of the Buses to not only enhance Security but also make it possible to plan the best routes based on Traffic Congestion on the road.

The Driver is completely relieved of having to do any checks on the SmarterCard Terminal installed. All he has to do is to load the SmarterCard Terminal with Thermal paper and drive. The SmarterCard Terminal does the rest, both in terms of printing tickets as well as updating the SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System Server on Ticket Sales.

But the ultimate savings aside from the streamlined efficiency that 100% collection of Bus Fares via the SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System would be in terms of Fuel and Maintenance. For both the JRC and the JUTC, the use of LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) as described in my blog article entitled “JUTC, Challenger and LNG - Journey to the Center of the Earth” and the use of Auto LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) as described in my Geezam blog article entitled “Auto LPG as a Motor Vehicle Fuel” would result in significant cost savings in terms of Fuel as well as Engine Maintenance.

The SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System, if done right alongside initiatives to reduce the cost of Maintenance and Fuel Consumption for JUTC Buses, will be a model for the rest of the Caribbean to follow. If successfully implemented, the SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System can be ported across to the JRC (Jamaica Railway Corporation) to also streamline the collection of Fares on Passenger Trains. Interestingly too, it also sets the stage for the introduction of Wireless Broadband Internet usage on Buses and Trains.

The SmarterCard Cashless Bus Ticket System is The Last Stand (2013) for the Ministry of Transport and Works as it relates to achieving efficiency in Public Transportation. In the process, the PNP-led Administrations is on a path to the full implementation of the Multi-Modal Concept that was originally championed by former JLP Minister of Transport Mike Henry By then the Cashless Society concept would already be in full bloom as if Struck by Lightning (2013).

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