Transport operators and authorities in the Calypso Networks Association have been developing standards for smart card ticketing and related applications

André Ampelas
Manager, Information & Telecommunication Systems,
Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens

OVER THE NEXT two years, low-cost contactless smart cards will replace magnetic stripe ticketing for all journeys on the Paris metro, tram and bus networks. There are already more than 1·5 million Navigo cards in use for season tickets and staff passes, but the next phases will extend the concept to millions more users by the end of 2005.

RATP's contactless pass development programme was initiated at the end of the 1980s, with the aim of replacing the magnetic stripe ticketing from 2000 onwards. This equipment had been installed at the end of the 1960s, initially for a 15-year period. So we felt it was appropriate to move towards a new generation of fare collection technology.

Although magnetic ticketing was undeniably revolutionary for its time, it nevertheless presents considerable limitations today: low storage and processing capacity, ease of forgery, wear of the mechanical readers, and high investment and maintenance costs. The intelligence and security features offered by a contactless smart card allow proximity transactions in around 150ms. Smart cards are also adaptable to the complexity of a multimodal transport network fare structure.

Depending on the requirements of the operator, proximity transmission (50 to 100mm) also offers the prospect of access control or payment transactions, which opens up the perspective of a huge multi-service market. Right from the start, the design of the ticketing technology included these complementary applications, in particular the electronic purse, making the system a true 'urban pass'.

Early experiments

The technical development programme initiated by RATP at the end of the 1980s was progressed as a partnership with Innovatron, a company founded by smart card inventor Roland Moreno. By 1994 a prototype pass was being tested by 40000 RATP staff, for staff management applications such as access control to buildings and restaurants, recording working hours, and so on. At this stage the pass used a then-standard contact smart card inside a sheath fitted with an antenna for contactless transmission.

In 1997 all Paris transport operators were brought into a federation under the control of the regional authority. This enabled the start of experiments with real users in public ticketing applications that would lead to a go-ahead for general use three years later.

At the same time, the available technology was improving. In the mid-1990s, the smart card industry had developed dual-interface chips, for use in contact and contactless applications. Mounting these on the cards led to the first ISO-format dual-interface smart cards in 1998.

In parallel, an ongoing process of promotion and standardisation with other operators in France and elsewhere led to the creation in 1995 of the CLUB Association (ContactLess User Board), bringing together more than 160 organisations with interests in contactless smart card applications. The same year saw the European Icare project bring together transport operators from Brussels, Paris, Konstanz, Lisboa and Venezia to develop smart card ticketing.

In 1998 the Calypso programme was launched to promote public transport ticketing in conjunction with electronic purse functions. RATP has recently signed a co-operation agreement with ITSO, an organisation set up to define and develop standards, specifications and products for smart card ticketing in the United Kingdom.

Designed by operators

Calypso does not belong to any monopoly supplier. It is an open-source technology, much like Linux, and is distributed to manufacturers through a licensing agreement, at no cost to the operators. The over-riding objective is standardisation, both in the field through the backing of various operators, and in the standardisation of applications and processes.

The ISO 14443 B international transmission standard stems directly from work carried out for Calypso, which has also contributed to the CEN ENV 1545 standard. The Calypso spirit essentially consists of a bottom-up approach, whereby the open standard is built up using numerous trials and experiments.

Widespread deployment of Calypso ticketing began in 1998, pioneered in France by the public transport networks in Amiens and Nice. Other French and Italian towns followed, and 2000 saw the first large scale applications in the Paris region and in Portugal. Today, some 35 million smart cards and 30000 Calypso terminals are in service in 40 towns across 14 different countries, including Lisboa, Paris, Montréal, Milano and Venezia. In addition, 40 manufacturers distribute Calypso products in 11 countries.

Their introduction has marked a natural evolution from first-generation smart cards with hard-wired logic, which still represent the majority of cards on the market today.

Last year saw the start of a new phase with the creation of the Calypso Networks Association. Membership is open by right to all Calypso operators and their organising authorities. Founded in Brussels in the spring of 2003, the non-profit association is intended to manage the Calypso specifications and their evolution, contribute to the standardisation process, and encourage a degree of mutual assistance between users.

CNA also benefits from the revenue generated from licence sales, but as a not-for-profit organisation it reinvests the money in research and development. As no one has the monopoly on intelligence, whatever is developed in one city can be transposed to another, in co-operation with any chosen supplier. This is effectively putting the future of the technology into the hands of its users.

Technical benefits

The benefits of contactless ticketing are now widely accepted - simple, fast ergonomics and substantial savings in terms of investment and maintenance. However, Calypso also offers a number of specific features.

The security-based architecture is founded on a range of smart cards using proven algorithms for mutual card-terminal authentication, and transaction certification. This makes it possible to do away with centralised processing operations and heavy back-office management. As well as reducing the running costs, this offers the best guarantee of respecting an individual user's privacy.

Cards can be reloaded remotely, in complete security, using third party terminals such as banking ATMs or at travel agencies, reducing sales and distribution costs. This can be a valuable contributor to the business case for installing a new ticketing system.

Calypso enables a powerful transport application to be embedded on a range of contactless cards. The transaction meets with various international standards: ISO 14443 for the contactless interface, ISO 7816-4 for the memory organisation and file structure, and CEN ENV 1545 for the definition of transport data. Calypso provides its own detailed specifications for terminal application software, data handling, and so on, which ensure optimal conditions for the interoperability of products developed by different suppliers.

A 'session' protocol designed by Calypso ensures the reliability of data exchanges, even if the transaction is interrupted which can happen frequently with contactless applications. The data encoding is designed to maximise transaction speed without limiting the volume of exchange possible.

Calypso has spawned a wide range of products to meet the needs of numerous applications, in particular dedicated transport ticketing, multi-user cards for transport, e-purse, and other functions such as parking access, and active cards with additional security functions. The latest development is low-cost contactless paper tickets, of which 20 million have already been distributed. These will play an increasingly significant role in eliminating legacy tickets at a reasonable cost.

Navigo roll-out

The widespread deployment of Calypso smart card ticketing in the Paris region was launched in 2002, under the brand name Navigo. The programme comprises three main phases (Table I), and feedback from the first phase has been very valuable. A survey of 1200 users conducted in mid-2003 produced a 97% satisfaction rate.

Having initially been tested through a series of experiments with RATP staff, the Navigo access and control system responded well to a massive ramp-up following the public launch. Since the first phase was restricted to annual season ticket holders whose details were already held in a database, the distribution of personalised cards did not create any major difficulties.

The main technical problem concerned the physical personalisation of the cards. In practice, the tools derived from contact smart card applications turned out to be inadequate for ensuring mass personalisation of contactless cards. The process was made more reliable through the implementation of specific tools adapted to the mechanical and physical constraints of the contactless card. In particular, these focused on the connection between the antenna and the card chip.

Navigo's commercial introduction is being accompanied by a new 'service-based' relationship between RATP and its passengers. This has already seen a 100% increase in the sales of long-term passes, opening the way to a programme for boosting customer loyalty.

The second phase of implementation covers the millions of customers who use short-term passes or carnets of 10 tickets. Starting this year, the programme presents a challenge in terms of ensuring the effective distribution of up to 5 million passes and tickets together with the addition of millions of new customers to the user database.

Reaching out to occasional users in the third phase will see the widespread use of low-cost, paper contactless cards, which have been in use between Paris and Orly Airport since 2001. These low-cost tickets are already used on a large scale in Capri and Porto, which opted for the immediate mass deployment of a fully-contactless Calypso ticketing system three years ago.

A bright future

The diversity of initiatives taken by various transport operators within the Calypso framework has helped to establish what Roland Moreno calls a 'second generation smart card'. It has also spurred the growing industrialisation of contactless technology in other fields, including passports and payments, thanks to recent announcements by credit card organisations MasterCard and Visa.

This transfer of technology will progressively hatch new opportunities for partnerships between different urban service providers - for example transport operators, banks, health services, and local authorities. For transport-related organisations, contactless cards provide a tool that opens up new strategic opportunities. All these developments are facilitated by the use of an open, durable and standardised technology.

  • CAPTION: Navigo cards have been issued to annual season ticket holders on the Paris metro since early 2002
  • CAPTION: Navigo smart cards are also accepted on RATP's bus services, where over 8 000 readers are being installed

Table I. Phasing for the introduction of Navigo smart cards in Paris

Phase 1,
Phase 2,
Phase 3,
end of 2005
Ticket types Annual passes Monthly and weekly passes, carnets Single tickets
Cards 1·5 million 5 million Hundreds of millions
Metro access gates 3000 terminals 3000 more
Bus readers 8000
Sales points 28 offices 40 offices 5500 vending machines
Portable inspection devices 200 contact 4000 contactless