Public transport in The Netherlands is set to change forever. In 2006, the current bus and tram card (the so called “strippenkaart”), will be replaced by a public transport chip card. This card will enable public transport companies to monitor and track the movements of public transport passengers. The objective of the new system, which is estimated to cost around one billion euros to implement, is to make public transport safer and more efficient. According to the transport companies, usersneed not be concerned about the protection of their personal data. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the Dutch Data Protection Authority will observe these developments closely.
At the end of March 2003, the five biggest public transport companies in The Netherlands including Dutch Railways and all major bus and subway companies, announced that they had commissioned EastWest, a consortium of Accenture, MTRC Corp., Thales and Viales, to develop the new chip card. Together, the companies are responsible for carriage of some 90 percent of public transport passengers.
The proposed chip card-system will provide for two types of card. The first will be an anonymous electronic ticket that can be purchased for a specific journey. The second will be a personalised card, whereby the public transport companies have a direct payment relationship and can make offers to a customer that are matched to their personal travel profile.
The chip card will enable a customer to pay for public transport electronically. The core of the system is a central database in which the journeys of the public transport customers concerned are stored. When they commence their journey, they must pass their chip card along a so-called contactless card reader or “checkpoint” at a station or bus stop. At that moment, the central database records that the owner of the chip card has begun his or her journey. On arrival at their destination, the customer must once again pass their chip card via a contactless card reader when they leave the bus, tram or train platform.
In order to determine the location of the train, bus or tram, global positioning system technology (“GPS”) will be used. When the customer leaves the bus and uses their chip card, information about their location is stored on the onboard computer. At night the records on the onboard computer will be transferred to the central database.
The benefits to the public transport companies are obvious. The new chip card system will provide a detailed insight into the transport stream enabling the public transport companies to deploy their personnel and resources more efficiently. Research done during the selection procedure for the new system indicates that an improved deployment of personnel and resources can lead to savings of up to 20 percent.
The new system must also facilitate the allocation and settlement of therevenue and costs between the different public transport companies, as it provides insight into which company sold the card and on which specific routes the card was used. The current bus and tram cards do not have this functionality. Consequently, the settlement of costs is currently done in a rather imprecise way, namely on the basis of an annual survey of travellers.
An important argument for the introduction of the chip card and particularly in combination with the tourniquets or turnstiles, is safety. Without a valid chip card it will become be impossible to get to the train or bus platform. This means that troublemakers can be kept outside unless they buy a ticket. Moreover, the system should eliminate evasion or staying on transport beyond ticket expiry.
However, there is more to the card scheme than this. The public transport companies explicitly want the central database to have the functionality for blacklisting. The cards of known troublemakers will be placed on a blacklist and subsequently the owners of such cards can be denied access to the public transport system. In this respect the system is not completely watertight, as the card will be placed on the blacklist and not the owner. An owner can always buy another non-personal card. Nevertheless, the transport companies have emphasised that the system will undoubtedly improve the safety of public transport.
The public transport companies have not expressed any real concerns about privacy. According to their spokesperson, the Dutch Data Protection Authority (“College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens”) will be notified of all databases containing personal data. The companies recognise there is the risk that the movements of individual public transport customers may be monitored. However, according to the companies, this can also be done via a credit card or cash card. Still, given the potential privacy threats, the Data Protection Authority has indicated that it will watch the development of the chip card system and the conditions attached closely, particularly because practice has shown that it is very difficult to repair any “privacy deficiencies” in the system. In this respect, the Data Protection Authority has recommended applying so-called Privacy Enhancing Technologies (“PETs”), i.e. technological facilities that aim to minimise the amount of identifiable data collected and stored in the system.
The companies intend to introduce the chip card at the beginning of 2004, with the Dutch railway company, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, testing it on the route between Rotterdam Central and Hoek van Holland. The Rotterdam and Amsterdam subways are also likely to be provided with turnstiles and scanners in 2004 and by 2006, it is envisaged that the system will be working nationwide.
More information about the new public transport chip card can be found on the www.translink.nl
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