Colloquium: An efficient bus-ticket system for Sri Lanka: Possibilities for a Mobile2.0 solution

Posted on April 8, 2010  /  2 Comments

The colloquium was conducted by Harsha de Silva, PhD. Harsha began by explaining that the paper focus both on trains and buses, but in this colloquium will focus on the Bus transport.

75% of passenger transport is via public transport and of that 93% by bus and 7% by train. Roughly 5500 SLCTB and 18000 private buses. The fare is regulated by National Transport Commission (NTC). They also have timetables which are n0t implemented.

Shortest distance (~2KM) LKR 6:00.

Longest distance 260 KM – LKR 655.00.

Most of the BOP uses bus transport. 36% of the BOP use mobile and fixed phones.

Current bus ticketting issues.
Cash has to be paid for the bus ride except for season tickets

SLTB buses use both ticket books and manual ticket machines to issue tickets to commuters

Private buses primarily use digital ticketing machines that prints out tickets. Can store data, process memory. Can even tell you how may people have to get off at the next bus stop.  The one in use now is also lighter in weight.

These are mainly used in the Western Province and on a few inter provincial buses.  Manual ticket machines are used in other areas.

Issues with the current ticketting system:

Money lost in Transit. Bus conductors and Drivers take the money, or tickets are not issued, or passengers do not buy the tickets. CTB estimates a 15% loss of revenue and private bus owners 25%.

Chanuka: How is the estimates done?

RS: through Load share.

HdS: Bus owners want to reduce leakage.  They wold like to issue a e-bus tickets. So the solution is either a card system or a mobile. So from the suply side there is a need but what about the demand side?

A  simple survey was done at the Fort railway station. Not a Sample survey but to get an idea. 2/3: 1/3 male: female. There maybe selection bias as it is a starting point.

What is the real cost of a ticket? Do the passengers receive the balance after getting a ticket? only 5% said that they always get there balance. Most people carry exact change. And only 50% of the people receive a bus ticket. Ticket checkers are used both in public and private sector. Some private companies have their own people to check for tickets.

So because of these issues, there is a need.

Possible benefits of e-tickets:

For Bus operators

  • reduce leakage
  • Offer loyalty plans etc.

For Commuters

  • Cost only actual fare
  • Can better schedule travel; save on transport expenditure

State [local government]

  • Tax collection
  • Target subsidies

What are the options?

Contactless smart cards: Oyster, ez link. Delhi is running a pilot, minimum reload INR 25.

Mobile phones: either through SMS or Near field Communication (NFC) merging mobile phones with a contactless smart card (Innovation).

NFC mobile phones: Nokia introduced the first in 2005 (3220). Break through innovation is instead of a NFC  phone, what about an NFC SIM. China Telecom has come p with a NON NFC standard RF SIM.  Nokia 6216: First NFC standard SIM compatible. Operator can load application.

Japan is leader with NTT DoComo Osaifu-Keitai e-wallet phones. Spain, Netherlands, France and Germany, mobile bus and rail ticket system are being piloted.  China has started.  UK to start by 2015 and fully switch to NFC by 2020.

Other choice is through SMS.
What are the options for Sri Lanka? The need for a system can be seen.
Inefficiency can be seen from the over-crowding:
RS: other problem is the lack of a night service. Glut in day time but nothing in the night.
Both contactless card and e-bus tickets viable options.  Of the surveyed people, contactless card was preferred over mobile. SMS is considered a hassle. Current digital machines can be upgrade to a chip system and a contactless card can be issued. An agent network has to be established to top up. Tust maybe an issue but can be overcome.  Bus owners keen as they can stop the leakage.
SMS system currently in use with the train reservations in Sri Lanka.
NFC enabled mobile phones will meet the need to attack leakage but success conditional on success of m-money model: Either m-banking extension [eZpay] or yet-to-emerge m-money model, Quick [sub-second] transaction
Secure: Commuter can chose to authorize transaction unlike contactless card
Can link to multiple other Mobile2.0 services [including reload]
RS: A ticket is issued?
Can do but if not, environmentally friendly. Can have a digital ticket or it can have a chip that has dynamic ricing where the transaction is closed when leave the bus. Like Oyster or ez Link.
Challengers and Policy responses:
Conversion of current digital ticket machines to NFC mobile phone readers
  • Not expected to be much of an issue as NFC emulated smart cards and thus only a chip upgrade is needed.  But ideally on-board readers [fixed; not hand-held]
Liquidity of bus operators:  The need for cash during the days business must be addressed
RS: Liquidity will not be an issue. The owner can give the driver and conductor a float.
State can offer one-time conversion subsidy or duty-free importation of equipment
Procuring NFC enabled mobile phones
  • Most mobile phones [including in LK at BOP] are not NFC-enabled.  Will take time for NFC handsets to be widespread.
  • New NOKIA innovation of NFC in the chip.  Operator can easily facilitate NFC. 6216 in India already just USD 165.
HG: NFC technology is used in RFID.  Prices keep coming down.
Operators could seize the opportunity to build a suite of mobile2.0 services
Offer customer loyalty programmes
State could exempt taxes on identified expenditure to promote the use. Generally reduce mobile service taxes
Regulatory issues:
TRCSL needs to clear up the licencing and the frequency issues.
RS: The TRC can reserve the frequency.
NTC has to make the service possible.
Banking regulation: Bottle neck maybe in the oerators not being able to come up with a innovative business model and not CBSL.
Targetted subsidies an be used to restructure the transport system. subsidy an be delivered via operator to the targetted commuter.
Having real-time information on the passenger transport network [bus and more] can help dynamically manage the service to meet the optimal targets in a very idealistic scenario.
Dynamic pricing can be used.
What next?
  • A supply side as well as demand side need exists for a better bus ticket solution
  • Either a contactless ‘smart’ card or a NFC enable mobile2.0 service can fulfill this need.  We do not recommend any technology but the pros and cons are given
  • We have provided some theoretical-technical-attitudinal and policy relevant information for further study by all the stakeholders in order to take the next step

RS: The TRC can enforce a law that over the next few years only NFC phones to be brought into the country.

RS: Are you aware that in Sri Lanka if a service such as e-chanelleing or buying rail tickets a tax on tax if applied?


  1. Sumedha Chandrarathna

    As a startup this can be used to reserve tickets for long distance services (AC/Non AC) like Jaffana.