Cubic’s Innovation Centre in central London is the testbed for new technologies that could transform the public transport journey experience


60 people per minute: a visualisation of a ‘gateless gateline’

Identifying yourself by the vein structure in your hand and having cameras track your every move through a railway station – to some it will sound like a 1984-style dystopian vision, but Cubic believes this is all part of the free flowing and efficient future for fare collection.

The San Diego-based company  provides a diverse range of systems and services to the transportation and defence markets worldwide. Its Cubic Transportation Systems business provides fare collection infrastructure and services to many of the world’s largest cities, including London, New York and Sydney. It deals with 20-30 billion journeys a year, of which 3.5 billion are with Transport for London.

In December 2015 the company opened an Innovation Centre in central London (PT124) to drive the development of a new generation of transport solutions. And last week members of the press were invited in for a show and tell tour, hosted by the centre’s manager, Graham Fletcher.

Tracking your every move

If you feel uncomfortable about the idea of cameras identifying you as you enter a building and then tracking your every move, it may have already happened to you. A number of airports already have cameras embedded in the ceiling that log your every move. To enhance security, the cameras ensure that the person who checked in is also the person who dropped off the luggage and who eventually boarded the plane. But Fletcher explained how Cubic has identified a different role for this technology for public transport.

A camera on the ceiling by the entrance to Cubic’s Innovation Centre demonstrates how this technology tracks individuals as they move around, displaying them as circles on a nearby monitor. Cubic believes that this technology could open up railway stations. For example, the Gatwick Express service currently requires its own gateline at Victoria station to funnel passengers in the direction of the right train. However, the tracking technology would enable a single gateline because it would see which train the passenger boarded, enabling their Oyster card or contactless bank card to be charged accordingly.

Cubic is planning to conduct a trial of this technology next year. It will track passengers as they enter an ungated station in the Oyster area and monitor whether they have tapped their Oyster card or bank card on the reader (failure to do so means that they are charged for the highest possible fare when they tap out at their destination). Passengers who have not tapped in will trigger a red warning light when they cross a line of LEDs embedded in the floor, providing them with a helpful reminder before they board their train.

Palm vein techology

Cubic is also looking at new ways to identify people. The company has done a lot of work assessing different forms of biometrics, and palm vein technology appears to have emerged as a frontrunner.

This technology scans the normally invisible vein pattern of the palm, back of the hand, fingers, etc, and is said to be highly accurate and highly resistant to counterfeiting. Unlike fingerprint recognition it does not require
the passenger to touch the reader, and therefore there is less passenger resistance to it.

The benefit for public transport is to reduce the “fumble factor”. Instead of groping through a bag or coat for a wallet and then extracting the appropriate card, passengers simply hold the palm of their hand over a reader.

Gateless gateline

It is technologies of this kind that will allow Cubic to meet the demands of moving ever increasing volumes of people through finite spaces. Gates at stations currently have a theoretical throughput of about 35 people per minute, Fletcher explained. In practice, this can vary from 26/27 at locations with high numbers of tourists to 32/33 at peak times, when experienced commuters are travelling. But the people who are designing the high capacity stations of the future want Cubic to deliver a throughput of 60 people per minute – the equivalent of a line of people walking briskly.

The solution is to go gateless. London tried running open gates,  whereby the gate only closes if a valid ticket is not presented, and while this hastened the flow of people, large numbers of teenagers tried to play the gates and run through. Going gateless requires a shift to a new revenue model whereby passengers no longer have to prove that they have the right to travel before they are let in. Although validation would be moved away to lower density parts of the station, the gateline would serve as a part of the evidence gathering structure.

Passengers would be tracked from the moment they entered the station, and they would identify themselves at validators before passing through the gateline. If they forgot to do so, there would be a red light reminder as they passed through the gateline and they would be photographed. Additional validators would be available on the other side of the gateline, offering such passengers the opportunity to identify themselves (and have the photograph deleted) before boarding the train. A mock-up of this gateline ticketing infrastructure has been installed at Cubic’s Innovation Centre.

This infrastructure would require the train operators’ model to shift from revenue protection to fraud protection. With a throughput of 60 people per minute it would no longer be cost effective to check everyone’s right to travel. Neither would it be cost effective to catch passengers who make an occasional mistake, but the transport operator would be able to use facial matching technology to pursue habitual fare evaders. Fletcher explains: “If you keep getting on a train without paying, eventually we say to the guard ‘there’s a gentlemen who looks like this in carriage three who hasn’t paid today, and by the way he didn’t pay on Tuesday and he didn’t pay on Monday’.”

There is work to be done to win the public over to this model. There was mixed feedback to a demonstration at the LT Museum in London last year. One third said ‘I’m not giving you any biometric information’, another third said ‘go ahead, it makes no difference to me’ and the final third said ‘if you can assure us that you will be careful with our data’.

Flexible ticketing

The Department for Transport is pushing the rail industry all the time for more complex and more flexible ticketing models, and Cubic is developing the systems to enable this.

“We are in a situation that if a train company came to us and said ‘we would like to offer a season ticket that’s valid at peak time on Mondays and Tuesdays, off-peak on Wednesdays and not at all on Thursdays, we could do that,” says Fletcher. “It’s not that it could not be done. It’s just that it needs a huge amount of infrastructure … If everybody jumped at the same time, it could be cost effective, but it’s never cost effective for one train company.”

Cubic has been involved in a new flexible ticketing trial at London’s Marylebone station with Chiltern Railways. Here a select group of passengers are using Bluetooth tickets on their smartphone, which are recognised by two specially-adapted gates at the station. These gates open automatically as the passenger approaches. At the at end of the period they will be invoiced for the best possible value set of tickets they could have purchased.

“Once that infrastructure works it’s quite simple for the train operator to sell you a right to travel two days a week,” says Fletcher.

Remote control

One of the first innovations to pass through Cubic’s Innovation Centre was NextAgent, a ticket machine with a live video link. It enables customers to speak with a customer service agent exactly as they would at a standard ticket office window, with noise cancelling and highly directional speakers enabling a private conversation in a public space. NextAgent has already been tested by Abellio at Stansted Airport and is now being installed in Germany and Singapore.

Cubic is now working on a remote gateline, which a member of staff can monitor via a video link. Video analytics are being used to spot people who are trying to tailgate through the gates, to spot people who get stuck in a gate or separated from their bag.

Cubic is also developing technology that allows the gateline to monitor the number of people moving in each direction and reconfigure the gates accordingly. This innovation helps squeeze extra capacity out of the current infrastructure and it will be trialled in central London in October next year. At the moment gateline staff run along with a key and reconfigure the gates manually.

And finally… ‘We’ll make sure you never miss a train’

Cubic’s Innovation Centre provides a location for the company to work jointly with universities, its supply chain, its customers and local SMEs. One of those SMEs is Immerse Simulations, which is researching how to make the best use of connected autonomous vehicles as they start to emerge into the market.

The centre’s manager, Graham Fletcher, sees an opportunity to harness this technology to provide an integrated transport service.

He explained: “At the moment, if you buy an Advance rail ticket you are responsible for getting to the railway station and you are responsible for getting there in time to get on the train that you have booked. If you miss that train your ticket is not valid. We envisage that in the future perhaps your train operator is working with local infrastructure in your town to come and pick you up at the right time to get you to the railway station. And your railway ticket is valid for the first train after you arrive at the railway station, whatever time that is, which means it is impossible to miss your train.”


This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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