The Scourge of Modern Times in AFC Systems Rarely Talked About

September 24, 2022

A subtle yet pervasive issue unfolds its wings across the Automated Fare Collection (AFC) Systems landscape, and it goes beyond the technical and operational aspects – it taps into the fundamental dynamics of how stakeholders, including transit operators, agencies, and even passengers, navigate through their daily transactions and operational protocols: Vendor lock-in.

A topic often shrouded in the shadows, vendor lock-in affects every nuance of AFC system interaction. While stakeholders may find solace in ISO standards like ISO-14443, viewing them as a refuge from compatibility issues, it is either craftiness or incompetence that shades the truth. The low-level communication between a card and a terminal, despite its universal market support and nuances that can indeed affect compatibility and subsequent costs, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Venturing deeper, two pivotal aspects emerge, demanding undivided attention:

This information, strategically concealed by vendors to establish and maintain their dominance, doesn’t need to be shrouded in secrecy. We’re not advocating for vendors to lay bare their software source codes and know-how, swinging from one extreme to the other. Rather, it is about facilitating a scenario where customers (transit authorities, operators, AFC system operators) are not handcuffed by their lack of access to this critical information, enabling them to sidestep potential vendor lock-in.

At AFCSOA, we strive to build a bridge over this quagmire, developing electronic ticketing and data exchange formats that safeguard the interests of all AFC stakeholders, balancing the scales without forcing vendors to relinquish their proprietary formats to customers.

Navigating further into the complexity of AFC Systems and vendor lock-in, there’s an imperative to dissect why this problem isn’t merely an isolated affair of vendors and AFC operators but spans to affect every strata of the public transport ecosystem. The ripples of this quandary touch the shores of operational efficiency, financial viability, and ultimately, passenger experience.

Reflecting upon the implementation and ongoing management of AFC Systems, the subtle tentacles of vendor lock-in insidiously weave through every interaction, transaction, and decision-making process. From the ticket vending machines at stations to the digital interfaces that millions of passengers interact with on a daily basis, every touchpoint is dictated by decisions often made behind closed doors, concealed within the confines of proprietary formats and secretive operational protocols.

Moreover, the lack of standardized electronic ticket data and transaction formats exacerbates the opacity with which AFC Systems operate, thereby amplifying the potential for inefficient system evolutions and fiscal missteps. This circumstantial monopoly does not merely stifle innovation but could potentially escalate operational costs, as transit agencies find themselves navigating through a labyrinthine path without the leverage of alternative vendor options or competitive pricing.

This phenomenon necessitates an introspective glance at the holistic picture – evaluating not just the technicalities of systems in place but also casting a critical eye towards the financial and operational implications that these locked-in systems propagate over the duration of their existence.

At AFCSOA, our commitment is not merely about discerning the issues but weaving through them to carve out viable, sustainable, and equitable solutions. Developing comprehensive and open electronic ticketing and data exchange formats isn’t merely a technical exercise but an embodiment of our pursuit towards operational transparency, financial viability, and a future-forward approach for all AFC stakeholders.

Our mission extends into demystifying and dismantling these invisible barriers, crafting a landscape where AFC system technology is not a shrouded mystery but a transparent, interoperable platform upon which cities, transit agencies, and operators can build a future of public transport that is as equitable as it is innovative.

We stand at the intersection of technology and public transport, not merely as observers but as active participants, shaping, guiding, and navigating through the challenges towards a horizon where AFC Systems are not gatekeepers but gateways - gateways to innovation, operational excellence, and enhanced passenger experiences.