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  • Introduction
  • Paper tickets
  • Magnetic Tickets
  • Contactless cards
  • Useful links

Many ticket materials to chose from

Tickets are made of various materials from plain paper to mobile phone going through light cardboard, plastic or metallic tokens, cardboard with magnetic stripe, PVC with or without magnetic stripe, paper, cardboard or plastic with barre code, cardboard or PVC with embedded chip for contact, contactless (or both) cards, SMS and may be others that I forgot to list.

Beyond the very first function, which is the proof that you are entitled ride on the transport service, tickets and ticketing systems have many other functions for the public transport network like the needs of information. The choice of technology is a major point and should follow an analysis of the real needs of the network: always remember that you should be driving the choice of technology and not having the technology imposing you to change your operation.

The other tabs of this page will give you a broad view of the possibilities offered for each of these available technologies. For each family you will find a table of characteristics not to be missed:

Manual Sales Tickets are sold manually by agents. Accounting for cash and ticket sold is manual.
Automatic Sales

Tickets are sold by automatic vending machines either from a stock of pre-printed tickets (value) or from a stock of blanks that takes value only when the ticket is sold. Most complete machines are able to accept all types of payment: coins, banknotes and bank cards and to give change.

Semi-automatic Sales

Tickets are issued by a machine operated by a clerk. The clerk takes care of the payment.


In modern systems, this operation is done each time the passenger enters a means of transportation and activates the validity of the ticket for the trip about to be undertaken. In case of a transfer, the validation allows to verify the validity and to allow for transfer accordingly. The most basic validation is to punch a hole in the ticket, with contactless, it is to wave the card at the validator.


Operation performed by an inspector who verifies if the ticket is valid or not where the inspection takes place. This can be visual or with a handheld machine or both: it depends on the ticket technology.


Fraud is what we can call a "universal worry". The type of fraud is generally associated with the ticket technology. The most important is to detect fraud and the second most important thing is to have means to fight.

Multi modal, Transfers

This is the possibility for the passenger to use, on the same trip, various means of transport with the same ticket. If all means of transport are operated by various operators, then a characteristic of multi-operator shall be added to the system to facilitate revenue and sales management. The target is that the system is totally transparent to the passenger.

Printing Several printing technologies are used: needle printing, thermal printing (direct and transfer), even "stamp" printing is used on older systems.
Cost Cost of purchasing tickets.

The word Ticket is used in these pages for all types of technologies.

Paper or light cardboard tickets are the most ancient transport tickets. There are still in use today in a number of networks. They may be the sole ticket medium or be used in combination with other technologies. Their advantages, in terms of E-ticketing, are very limited but one cannot eliminate them only because they are no longer fashionable.

The paper ticket

If the ticket is for a trip that does not authorize any transfer, this technology is ideal and very cheap. The transport contractor may chose pre-printed tickets which may be provided in booklets or go for issuing machines that will print the ticket from a stock of blanks when the sale occurs. The paper ticket doesn't provide for any sort of automatic control. The validation will be through a stamp, a punched hole or an embossing mark. The result is that inspection can only be visual.

When the ticket is issued by a machine, it is recorded on the machine's memory so that sales data my be used later for accounting and statistic purposes. This kind of ticket is still very used in cases where there is no necessity to transfer with other transport means.

The development of the multi modal concept is a killer for paper tickets. Transfer rules are becoming quite complex an corresponding revenue splitting between the various operators can become a nightmare without adequate ticket technology. Also, success of multi-modality implies avoiding conflicts between operators by guarantying a fair split of revenue.

Light cardboard ticket

While paper is used for single tickets in urban area and for inter city trips, the light cardboard authorizes to envisage multi trip tickets because of its mechanical resistance. Mechanical validation has been used for many years, it generally consists of a printing and a cutting for each trip taken. Of course, this type of arrangement does not provide the means to build a real system and controls remain manual: multimodality is next to impossible.

Inspection is visual, statistics of traffic are basic being limited to counters. The only reliable traffic statistics are obtained from surveys performed by specialised service companies.

With the growing power of computers and associated printing capabilities, all these ticket types are becoming easier and easier to forge. A system that is defrauded is always a system which poses enormous problems to transport operators. Also if this technology is only used for very low value tickets it is probable they will not be defrauded as it is not worth it.

Manual Sales Yes
Automatic Sales Yes
Semi-automatic Sales Yes

It is not possible to have a automatic validation with paper tickets. On the other hand, light cardboard ticket can be mechanically validated: printing and/or hole punching.

Inspection Only visual inspection is possible.

Simpler ticket and easier it is to forge. As said earlier, the growing availability of powerful inexpansive computers make things easier for forgers. The only way to avoid this is to go for secured printings and other "banknote" manufacturing process. Of course the cost increases with complexity and becomes quickly prohibitive.

Multi modal, Transfers I consider that this technology is not suitable for inter-modality or automatic transfers. The manual control of tickets is too much time and staff consuming. Not to mention revenue splitting and statistics of traffic.
Printing The three technologies (needle, thermal & stamp) are used here with a preference for needle printing on light cardboard and direct thermal for the paper.
Cost The cost range for these tickets is quite wide going from very low cost for simple paper tickets up to much higher prices for well secured ones. As a general rule of the thumb, the price is proportional to the surface and the thickness when ordering large quantities.

Ticket samples

Billets RATP 01_eng
Old Paris Metro tickets (light cardboard)
billet 01_eng
München multitrip in light cardboard
Prague (secured paper)

Prague 01_engPrague (secured paper)

Santiago_eng Latin America: each bus company has its own ticket (paper)

Carte multiv_eng
Napolitan multitrip (light cardboard)


Multitrip in light cardboard that you fold before validating


Polish tickets (paper)

Prague01_eng _Prague02_eng

Ticket with transfer on the right, not very convincing (paper)

Billet papier_eng

Ticket issued by a driver control unit (thermal paper)


African ticket (paper)


Beijing buses (paper)


Malta (paper)


Sofia (paper)



The magnetic ticket appears in the middle of the sixties. It is the first version of what we can call a "smart" ticket. It allows an automatic control of passengers in public transport like underground's where access to platforms are controlled by arrays of barrier gates equipped with magnetic readers. It is good to remember that in these years the PC was still to be invented. The very first magnetic readers are based on the reading of a signal having a given frequency. Then, simple data messages are coded on the magstripe using NRZ or spiltphase (manchester) technologies at a density not greater than 1.5bit/mm and a low coercitivity(300 oersteds).

You can find these tickets under two major sizes: Edmonson (30x66mm) with a central magstripe and the ISO size (85x54mm) with a magstripe either central or in the ISO position. The magstripe position is important to the way the ticket is going to be introduced in the readers. Only the central position will authorize an introduction in any direction.

Other sizes may be found around the world like in Mexico City where the magnetic ticket is 31x55mm.


Historically, it is the first one to be used in 1968 in the Paris metro where it replaces a light cardboard ticket in the same format made famous by the french singer Serge GAINSBOURG in his song "Le poinçonneur des Lilas".

This Edmonson size ticket is still in use today: its price is very competitive even when high coercitivity is used (2500 to 3000 oersteds) with a coding density of 3bits/mm.

Manual Sales Yes
Automatic Sales Yes
Semi-automatic Sales Yes

Tickets are processed by validators on the ground or on board: the ticket is read, re-encoded, verified and printed if required. Printing is generally done following the length of the ticket which provides for a very good processing speed (below 1s).

Inspection Visual and/or reading the data content on the magstripe with a portable reader/decoder which displays it in clear format on its display.

The fraud is possible and generally consists in copying the data content on the magstripe to encode it onto other tickets. It is then necessary to implement system functions capable of detecting such fraud and stopping it. Of course, this type of fraud can only be done by "engineers" and more the coercitivity and density are increased, more difficult it becomes.

Multi modal, Transfers This technology allows to introduce these features. A number of networks are using it since over 20 years.

The three technologies (needle, thermal & stamp) are used here. Validation uses needle printing or "stamping" for older systems. Today, direct thermal print provides good quality printing for sales, however, older machines still in operation are still using needle printing for sales.

Cost By quantities, about 1 Euro cents per ticket in rolls.

Credit card size (ISO)

This size comes into the picture in the mid eighties bringing in an increased capacity in terms of encoding and printing compared to Edmonson size. One can also underline the capability of this format to increase its marketing attractiveness together with the capability to support advertisements.

Manual Sales Yes
Automatic Sales Yes
Semi-automatic Sales Yes

Tickets are processed by validators on the ground or on board: the ticket is read, re-encoded, verified and printed if required. The validation printing occurs perpendicular to the long side of the ticket providing one line per validation. Consequently, the process is longer than for the Edmonson.

Inspection Visual and/or reading the data content on the magstripe with a portable reader/decoder which displays it in clear format on its display.

The fraud is possible and generally consists in copying the data content on the magstripe to encode it onto other tickets. It is then necessary to implement system functions capable of detecting such fraud and stopping it. Of course, this type of fraud can only be done by "engineers" and more the coercitivity and density are increased, more difficult it becomes.

Multi modal, Transfers This technology allows to introduce these features. A number of networks are using it since over 20 years.
Printing Two technologies (needle & thermal) are used here. Validation uses needle printing or direct thermal. Today, direct thermal print provides good quality printing for sales, however, older machines still in operation are still using needle printing for sales.
Cost Around 3 cents of a Euro in quantities. In large quantities, the cost ratio between Edmonson and ISO follows their surfaces ratio.

Ticket samples

Note that "LoCo" stands for low coercitivity (300 oersteds) and "HiCo" for high coercitivity (3000 oersteds).


RATP ticket, Edmonson BC

SET of mag_eng

Collection of various blanks

Poignee de billet_eng

A hand full of ISO size tickets


Bucarest, 10 trips magstripe in ISO position

British rail_eng

British rail, credit card size, central sripe, LoCo


Dublin, ISO size, LoCo


Roma, ISO


Lyon, Edmonson HiCo


Barcelone, ISO HiCo


Newyork ISO


Londres Jubilee ticket, ISO LoCo


London, ISO, central stripe, LoCo

Ticket from Paris, Edmonson, LoCo,

Barcelona, ISO, HiCo


Adelaide SA, Group Ticket
Edmonson BC


Adelaide SA, Multitrip
Edmonson BC


Adelaide, original 1987 design
Edmonson BC


LYON daily ticket,
Edmonson HC



Contactless is today a reflex for any public transport organisation seeking a new e-ticketing system: ergonomics are so good that one would even forget fundamentals!

The contactless card has appeared in the middle of the nineties and has become the best alternative to magnetic tickets.

The contactless card:


Without becoming too much technical, a short description seems appropriate to better apprehend the issues.

The contactless card can communicate with a terminal without the need to be physically connected to it, not like bank cards where chip contacts are used. The energy required to power the card comes from the terminal when it is switched to transmit. The working distance is between 0 and 10cm along a spherical field.
The very first cards were only straight memories used by systems has if it was "magnetic tickets". In other words the "ticket technology" had changed but the data was the same as for a magnetic stripe.

The contactless card brings indisputable step forward in terms of transaction speed and easiness of validation gesture. However, everything is not perfect and new problems have to be solved. In fact, when a magnetic ticket is processed, the validator keeps the ticket until the end of the transaction. To the contrary, the contactless ticket stays in the user's hand and some precautions have to be taken to ensure safety of transaction.At last, but not least, the security embedded in the cards to avoid fraud is of growing importance: users are tempted to load more and more services and value on the same card thus attracting a growing number of defrauders.

The contactless cards development is going fast and performances are rapidly increasing. Cards available today are making it possible to implement functions and/or concepts which were difficult or impossible to implement like:

  • multi modality,
  • revenue apportionment,
  • tag on/tag off systems,
  • the multi-service: transport, swimming pool, library, electronic purse, etc...
  Remenber that more you ask from the card in terms of application and security, the slower the transaction becomes. You may endup in a situation where your ergonomics are not good enough to fully benefit from the technology.

Fields of application

One can consider that urban public transport is the best field of application of contactless technology: a lot of users concentrated in the same place at the same time every day of the week. The transaction speed associated to the fact that the ticket may stay in the bag is definitely a very serious advantage over any other technologies.
Numerous big networks are already equipped since several years: PARIS, HONG KONG, SINGAPORE, LONDON, SHANGAI, WARSAW, BARCELONA, LYON, NICE, MONTPELLIER, PERTH, MILANO...etc...

Beyond passengers carrying a contactless card, all networks are facing the problem of occasional users for whom the cost of contactless technology is not very well adapted. Of course, a lot of efforts have been produced a cost effective disposable contactless ticket: these tickets are available today but their price remains prohibitive. A number of networks had made the choice of the 100% contactless a few years ago: today they have step back reintroducing magnetic tickets for occasional's.

It is often said that the cost of maintaining magnetic technology is very high. I do believe that the use of this technology has still its place and that the running cost is quite effective taking what follows into consideration:

  • in a dual technology configuration, magnetics shall only account for 10 to 25% of passengers (running costs are directly proportional to usage)
  • today, reliability of machines available on the market is very high and generate yearly maintenance costs lower than 2% of the investment
  • the maintenance team of a system cannot go below a certain number of engineers anyway
  • the cost of a magnetic ticket (Edmonson) is about 30 times less than a disposable contactless ticket (July 2009)
  • large networks have kept magnetics, I leave you workout the figures for Paris, where the number of single trips reaches 850 millions/year!

Typically, contactless cards are really making sense when they apply to tickets which are valid for more than a day.

Various types of cards

The various types of cards shall conform to an international standard: ISO14443 (-1-2-3-4) you can find details here. The main cards are as follows:

  • Mifare 1K
  • Mifare 2K
  • Mifare DESFire
  • CD21
  • TanGo
  • FeliCa
  • Legic

It is Mifare, pioneer of the technology, who remains the world leader claiming 1 billion chip sold all types together. The majority is for cards where the chip does not include a micro controller. The DESfire has been sold at 3 million ex, figures for CD21 and Tango are not known, FeLiCa from Sony has been sold at 200 million ex. Legic until recently was specializing in identification has signed an agreement with the german company Scheidt & Bachman who is one of the historic players in fare collection.

The Mifare Classic has been put under the lights when its transmission security has been cracked. The Mifare Plus is going to replace it with adequate securities. It is very likely that the price will increase and the transaction time might be seriously affected.

From a functional perspective, contactless cards can also be fitted with contacts to take advantage of existing terminals only equipped with a contact interface.

Chip manufacturers are NXP, Infineon, ST Microelectronics, Atmel, Fujitsu, Samsung, Toshiba....

Manual Sales Yes, but not recommended
Automatic Sales Yes
Semi-automatic Sales Yes
Validation Cards are processed by validators, on the ground or on board, which read and write data from/to the card depending on rules defined by the network. Of course, there is no printing on the card during this operation and most of the time the card will stay in the wallet or in the bag.
Inspection Can only be done using a portable reader to visualise the content of the card. To improve the inspection speed, it is recommended to have a reader fitted with a function allowing to automatically tell if the card is valid or not at this point of the network at the time of inspection.

The fraud remains possible for experts with appropriates means. Today(July 2009) there is only one security case listed with Mifare Classic technology (London) which, of course, is the mostly used in the world (please see links below). The main risks are to see someone able to clone or to reload cards and so it is of utmost importance to fit central system with adhoc function allowing to detect and to fight fraud. Also, it seems appropriate to underline that if cards are only carrying transport tickets, the risk is somehow limited. Developments which increase the value contained in the card (i.e. electronic purse) are contributing to increase the risk by increasing attractiveness.
While Mifare Classic may still be used in a number of applications, who can dare making such a choice in regard of potential political issues? Who is prepared to enter into complicated explanations of central system considerations which might be a little bit to complicated for the average voter.

Multi modal, Transfers All developments may be envisaged. However, it is important to keep our feet on the ground and to avoid developing very complex systems which at the end only concerning a very little minority of users.
Printing As said above, no printing at validation. The only possible printing occurs at time of sale to personalise the card.
Cost The cost is variable depending on the type of chip used. The lowest is around 0,45€ for Mifare classic blank.
Mifare Classic
Did you say security?
Mifare Classic not secure?
OYSTER in danger?

Beyond the cards

The contactless technology may take other forms than plastic cards. You can have tokens, watches and mobile phones. These various ways of using contactless are adapted to various situations:

  • Tokens can be easily recycled to become a good economical solution for single tickets. Of course, operation shall match such concept so that recycling does not generate more trouble than the expected benefit.
  • watches are often used by kids who often loose their card,
  • now the mobile phone: it seems so natural to add one more function to these pieces of magic that do already everything for you, or nearly!

Here again, it seems very appropriate to remember that what is important is to improve the service and to solve the true problems of the network. If once the essentials fixed there is still room to implement goodies then why not!

Common sense notes

To keep ergonomics at a high quality level:

  • The card processing time shall not exceed 250 to 300ms. More you add functions more time it takes to process the card: keep it as simple as possible.
  • Preferably do not mix various types of cards: this will undoubtedly increase the processing time.
  • the distance at which the card can start to communicate with the terminal shall not be below 7 to 8cm. The passenger shall not have time to ask himself if it works when reaching the terminal's target: at this very moment, the transaction shall be completed.
  • the process shall remain excellent when the card remains in the wallet, purse or bag. I have experienced a number of networks and I must admit that in most cases, this point can be improved. Most of the time you have to keep your wallet on the target for a while to be processed. You can observe passengers stopping: this is bad news for boarding times.

System security is very important and shall not rely only on the reader/card communication. The system shall include features enabling the detection of fraud: the worst possible kind of fraud is the one that stays invisible.

The reliability shall be excellent to maintain user confidence in the system: hard to built, so easy to destroy.

The homogeneity of equipment performances must be excellent to obtain the same reaction toward the passenger wherever you are on the network.

Card samples


London (recto), Mifare


London (verso), Mifare


Singapore (recto), FeliCa & Mifare


Singapore (verso), Felica & Mifare


Hong Kong, Felica


Paris, Calypso


Bank card +contactless








Disposable card SINGAPOUR


Disposable card SINGAPOUR


NEW SINGAPOUR Card (verso)


NEW SINGAPOUR Card (recto)

Jeton FELiICA_eng

Token, techno FelicA

Module montre_eng

Watch module, techno FeliCa


Disposable contactless ticket





With over 170 million contactless products in circulation in more than 50 countries, is a worldwide leading provider of a full range of contactless devices including contactless cards, contactless paper tickets and RFID adhesive labels.


Silicon chip manufacturer who manufactures chips for contactless technology. Atmel corp. designs and manufacture micro controllers and other products like capacitive sensitive displays, ASICS, memories and components for radio frequency applications.


This company is listed here for its disposable contactless tickets.


Since 1970, date of creation of the group, Calmell focused its activities on graphic products manufacturing as well as specific software and hardware developments for any access, identification and security fields.


Paris, FRANCE, CALYPSO parents are the european project ICARE between 1996 and 1998 and the integration of the new contactless technology in a multi service environment (1998-2000). The project has been tried and proven in various urban public transports: Constance, Paris, Lisbonne, Venise and Bruxelles. Twenty six partners (in France, Italy, Germany, Portugal et Belgium) from public transport background, banking, servicing and research and development laboratories have shared their know how to develop Calypso.

EM microelectronic_eng EM Microelectronic
EM Microelectronic is a semiconductor manufacturer specialized in the design and production of ultra low power, low voltage integrated circuits for battery-operated and field-powered applications in consumer, automotive and industrial areas. We have over 30 years experience in the design of IC processing analog and digital signals simultaneously. Our product portfolio encompasses RFID circuits, smart cards, ultra-low power microcontrollers, power management, LCD drivers and displays, sensor and opto-electronic ICs, mixed-mode arrays and standard analog ICs.

FeliCa par SONY
FeliCa is a contactless IC card technology developed by Sony. As the name stemming from the word "felicity" suggests, the system was born to make daily living easier and more convenient. The card is difficult to forge/reconstruct, and allows to send/receive data at high speed and with high security.



With more than 50 years’ worth of experience Fleischhauer is one of today’s leading producers of tickets for automatic identification and access control systems. Thanks to our many years of work with magnetic striping, bar-coding, encoding and RFID we have in-depth know-how of every kind of data-carrier technology.


Gemplus and Axalto create Gemalto mid 2006. Gemalto activities range from the development of software applications through the design and production of secure personal devices such as smart cards, SIMs, e-passports and tokens, to the deployment of managed services for our customers.


German company specialised in printing which proposes card personalisation services and disposable contactless tickets.

American company distributing RFID tags under a large variety of packages: cards, token, kay rings, watches etc...

Infineon Technologies focuses on the three main areas: Energy Efficiency, Communications and Security. Therefore it offers semiconductors and system solutions for automotive, industrial electronics, chip card and security as well as applications in communications. Particularly, Infineon supplies chips for contactless cards.

magnadata_eng MAGNADATA
This company is listed here as a supplier of disposable tickets.
Melexis_eng MELEXIS
Chip manufacturer proposing integrated circuits to interface with the 13.56Mhz.
MIFARE is a trademark of NXP Semiconductors. With more than 1 billion smart card ICs and 7 million reader components sold, MIFARE is a technology that has been selected for most contactless smart card projects and therefore, became the most successful brand within the automatic fare collection industry. In addition, the MIFARE product portfolio includes specific products that are the perfect solution for other applications such as loyalty, road tolling, access management and gaming.


NXP, Founded by Philips
NXP is a leading semiconductor company founded by Philips more than 50 years ago. Headquartered in Europe, the company has 31,000 employees working in more than 20 countries and posted sales of USD 6.3 billion (including the Mobile & Personal business) in 2007. NXP creates semiconductors, system solutions and software that deliver better sensory experiences in TVs, set-top boxes, identification applications, mobile phones, cars and a wide range of other electronic devices.

paragon_eng PARAGON
Magnetic ticket manufacturer since over 30 years Paragon is also proposing personalisation of contactless cards and RFID labels and tags.
rcd_eng RCD technology
American company manufacturing RFID tags under various shapes. For the field of application that is interesting us here, this company manufactures cards and disposable tickets using chips from various origins.

Sagem Orga
This company manufactures contactless cards and disposables contactless tickets.

Smatres_eng SMARTRES
Smart Res produces RFID tags with an exclusive inlay-less process, by laying a insulated copper wire directly on the substrate using custom designed and built machinery based entirely on our patented technology.

STMicroelectronics is one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies with net revenues of US$10.0 billion in 2007. STMicroelectronics was created in 1987 by the merger of SGS Microelettronica of Italy and Thomson Semiconducteurs of France. In the wireless arena, ST and NXP merged their key wireless semiconductor operations into a joint venture, ST-NXP Wireless, in which ST owns an 80% share, which is a top three supplier to the mobile handset industry.


Leading Card & RFID manufacturer, originally from Taiwan, in 125 KHz, 13.56 MHz and 915 MHz internationally
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