Advanced ticketing technology for Saudi Arabian capital’s new public transport network

With work rapidly advancing on Riyadh’s flagship integrated transport network, local authorities have recently been deciding which ticketing system to implement for the project. The decision is an important one: with SR82.5bn ($22bn) being invested in the metro system alone, an effective ticketing system will be key to attracting sufficient passengers – and revenue – to make the service sustainable.

A total of 10 international companies bid for the contract to implement and operate the new network’s ticketing system, and in January 2015, the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) awarded the tender to Indra, a Spanish-based technology consulting firm, in a €266m deal that also includes a 10-year maintenance and technological assistance agreement.

Latest Technologies

The tender, which Indra described as “the biggest ticketing contract in the world” to date, is expected to take 54 months to implement, and will make use of the latest technology, including contactless payment and near field communication, which will enable passengers to pay using their mobile phones. Indra will be responsible for developing the entire advanced pricing management system for the new integrated transport system, including the ticketing control centre, financial management software and operator clearing house.

The ticketing system will encompass both on-board ticketing sale and validation systems for the anticipated 800- to 1000-vehicle public bus network, as well as sale and access control systems for the over 80 stations and six lines of the metro system. Similar to “smart” ticketing systems in other major metropolises, the Riyadh ticketing system will allow access to the entire public transportation system through a single card or mobile phone application. Such a system would enable the network’s administrators to implement both season ticket and flexible “pay-as-you-go” options for passengers, targeted to their needs. Less frequent users, or those visiting the city, will be able to purchase one-way tickets utilising barcode technology.

Indra’s successful bid is not the company’s first project in Saudi Arabia: in 2011 it successfully bid as part of the Al Shoula consortium on a €6.7bn contract to supply railway systems and rolling stock to the Haramain High-Speed Rail Project, which when completed will link Makkah and Medina with Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City. The Al Shoula consortium features 12 Spanish and two Saudi Arabian companies, and Indra’s role is to implement the systems for rail-traffic management, telecommunications, ticketing and safety for the line. In addition to these, Indra will also be responsible for providing IT solutions to the operating company that will eventually be formed to run the service. Alongside these two projects in the Kingdom, Indra also has extensive experience of providing similar technological solutions across a variety of metro systems, including Madrid, Barcelona, Mumbai, Calcutta and Shanghai.

Opportunities Abound

While a notable boon for the Spanish economy, Indra’s success also demonstrates the significant opportunities currently available for international businesses seeking to enter the Kingdom’s transportation sector. The relative blank canvas of public transport in Saudi Arabia, coupled with the huge sums currently being invested, means that the authorities are keen to find reliable international partners who can deliver technologically advanced solutions, as well as engage in partnership with local companies to facilitate knowledge transfer to the nascent rail sector.

Although Riyadh is the largest and most advanced of the Kingdom’s integrated urban transport projects, the coming years will also see Jeddah, Makkah, Medina and Dammam in need of similar ticketing solutions for their own metro systems, which are currently planned or under construction. If Riyadh is to prove a benchmark, tendering for integrated ticketing systems could reach a total of SR3bn-4bn ($800m-1bn) for these projects, while additional specialised technological solutions will also be in high demand.

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