(Also posted on the touché website.)

NFC is emerging as a strong contender for delivering a common, easy-to-use technology solution in the field of transport ticketing.  While the technology underpinning NFC is now well understood, and beginning to be deployed in applications around the world, there are still potential issues and problems with its use – particularly from a user perspective.  It’s also the case that current testing approaches may not fully capture and replicate some of the issues that might be experienced when deploying technology such as this into widespread consumer use.  So touché recently commissioned the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England to carry out a study, observing passengers using NFC smartphones to pay for travel on buses, and supporting the findings by questionnaires, before and after using the phones.  This study was carried out in collaboration with Stagecoach, which is running the first commercial NFC services in the UK, in Cambridge and Peterborough.

The study threw up some surprises.  The first was that there were a number of cases where the bus reader didn’t recognise the phone, or where the ticket purchase process failed.  On observing the passengers, it was apparent that the method of presenting an NFC phone to a reader is not obvious to them.  There is no visual indication on the phone to say “touch here”, so passengers use their best guess about what to do.  This is different from a card, where the method of presentation is obvious. And yet this is in stark contrast to the questionnaires conducted ahead of the trial, where participants generally expressed a view that they knew about NFC smartphones and expected them to be easy to use in transport.

Partly these learnings, if that’s what they are, can be overcome by having bus drivers well trained.  However, one concern expressed by passengers was that there is variability in driver training, which affects the way passengers feel about using an NFC phone for bus travel.

The other frequently observed reaction from passengers was the fear of embarrassment from holding up others, especially users more frequent or experienced than themselves, through their own lack of knowledge or practice in carrying out transactions.  Questionnaire respondents gave this as an inhibiting factor in making a transition to NFC.

If we agree that a major goal of NFC smart ticketing is to tempt drivers out of their cars, at least for some of their journeys, then these fears of the phone not being recognised and holding up other people need to be addressed, preferably before services go live.  (And they’re not just fears – we have video recordings of passengers’ real life reactions.)  We are planning more research on the use of NFC phones in transport, by real people, and would like to hear from any person or organisation interested in participating.

You can call us or contact us through the touché website if you want to discuss any of this further: www.touche-nfc.com, or use the Contact Form from this website.

touché offers a range of NFC services, including:

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