European Cities Promote Nationwide Open-Loop Contactless Travel

The Netherlands has followed London’s example with the launch of an open-loop transport system.

Unlike their closed-loop equivalent, open-loop payment systems don’t require an additional card or pass to ride, and city travelers can easily hop on and off metros, trams and buses using their near field communication (NFC) contactless card or mobile wallet.

Transport for London (TfL) was the first to launch an open-loop system for buses in 2012. Since then the service has been expanded to the whole TfL network and in the space of a decade other cities worldwide followed suit.

In the Netherlands, the OVpay open-loop system went live in the Hague earlier this year and just last month in its capital city of Amsterdam.

Born out of a collaboration between the Dutch public transport providers, the goal is to launch OVpay across the country’s interconnected public transport systems next year, a move that will create the world’s first nationwide open-loop ticketing system.

Until then, the OVpay app, currently in beta, acts as a mobile wallet for travel, with users able to select their payment card and review previous trips.

Read more: Choice, Convenience, Compliance: The Promise Of Open-Loop Systems

In the meantime, the TfL recently put out a call for tenders that provides some important clues as to the future of its open-loop fare collection system.

Dubbed “Project Proteus,” London’s new public transport contract is expected to be one of the most expensive and complex in the world, estimated to cost between £800 million and £1.5 billion. TfL is looking for a technology partner to operate the city’s transport payment system for the next seven to 12 years.

With a planned award date of August 2024, the Proteus contract is a big prize which only a handful of global companies are equipped to pull off.

The winner of the bid will be responsible for building and maintaining the soft and hard infrastructure for open-loop contactless payments across London’s multimodal public transport network, which includes buses, trains and metro services, as well as trams, boats and cable cars.

Account-Based Payments

A notable aspect of Project Proteus is TfL’s ambition to start using payment account references (PARs) within its open-loop payment system.

This change will enable users to link contactless credit and debit cards to the same cards loaded as tokenized credentials in their mobile wallets, allowing them to tap their phones and cards interchangeably without being double charged.

As well as changes to London’s open-loop transport payments, the closed-loop legacy Oyster system will also be updated to an account-based rather than a card-based one.

In a previous era of TfL ticketing, a card-based approach was convenient for visitors to London, who could easily buy and top-up an Oyster card without having to register an account. But now that open-loop enables pay-as-you-go travel with any contactless payment card or device, Oyster cards are the less convenient option for people visiting from out of town.

Related: Digitization of Rail Transport Enables Seamless Journeys for Europe’s Passengers

Transitioning to an account-based approach will allow TfL to amend fares and introduce new services significantly faster because changes will be made in the back office, rather than on cards and readers.

That being said, decommissioning the legacy Oyster system and upgrading readers will be one of the biggest challenges of the project for whichever company procures the new contract.

London’s transport authority has also indicated that the contract winner will need to provide updated inspection devices built on the Android operating system that will be able to check barcode tickets.

Finally, Project Proteus will be developed alongside ongoing efforts to expand pay-as-you-go travel outside of London to National Rail stations in the wider South East of England.

But while the Netherlands’ nationwide approach has its appeal, implementing something similar in the U.K. would be a momentous undertaking.

Whereas the Netherlands already has a country-wide infrastructure in the form of the OV-chipkaart scheme, the U.K.’s public transport networks and their respective ticketing systems have evolved in isolation.

If the day comes when the U.K. does consider launching a nationwide connected transport system, the TfL infrastructure, which is already spilling beyond the borders of London, could lead the way.


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