I keep complaining that trains have a terrible user interface for payment: tickets. For example: if you get to the station and there is a very long queue, you might miss your train.
The Register is reporting that two German rail networks are interlinking their payment and ticketing systems:
Frankfurt’s regional travel authority is to merge its NFC infrastructure with the national rail operator, creating an interoperable network for travelling across Germany with a tap of the phone.
The cool part is NFC. Near field communication uses magnetic induction to send data over short distances. This is how Oyster works, but it is also appearing in phones, especially Android phones. This means you could buy a ticket using an app on your phone, then use your phone to touch-in at the gate. No queuing or ticket printing required.
The Reg article also mentions that thetrainline.com are doing something similar in the UK with barcodes. It’s early days: one recent press release suggests that this will work “when rail operators start supporting this feature in the coming months”.
I think NFC is a better long term bet. NFC readers should be cheaper than barcode readers, and easier to use. Around London we already have Oyster readers everywhere, and people are familiar with them. It should only require an electronics upgrade at the gate to the existing Oyster reader, rather than larger physical changes that barcode readers would need. It might take a while for NFC to be ubiquitous in phones, but phone technology moves very fast.