Barry Dorgan, Head of Ticketing, National Transport Authority (NTA)

For years, the transport needs of the Republic of Ireland have been served by a patchwork of public and private bus lines, light rail trams, and a national rail system. That nationwide network began to come together in 2011, when Ireland’s National Transport Authority (NTA) introduced its Integrated Ticketing Smart Card – marketed as the Leap Card.

Now accepted by 14 major public and private transport providers across Ireland, the Leap Card was an immediate success, largely replacing magnetic stripe tickets and leading to the creation of other ticketing products. Recently the NTA celebrated the sale of two million Leap Cards and more than 300 million rides have been paid for using the smart card. In 2015, Leap accounted for 47% of all public transport journeys in Ireland.

Read the Leap Card Case Study To Learn More

The challenge: provide more current information and easier top-ups

One distinguishing aspect of the Leap Card system is that the smart card itself contains the master record of balance and recent journey history for each passenger. While this ensures that card readers can check for sufficient credit, transactions are only transmitted when transport system devices are able to communicate, which can mean processing delays of up to 24 hours. Consequently, Leap Card users cannot easily get up-to-the-minute balances.

Top-ups and ticket purchases were another inconvenience. While passengers could add funds to their accounts via a website, the only way for that information to be loaded onto their Leap Cards was to visit point-of-sale shops or ticket vending machines.

The solution: “Transparent NFC” connects the card

By early 2014, NTA’s ticketing team had determined that the most promising way to address the issues was to use Near Field Communication (NFC), which was rapidly becoming a standard feature on smartphones. That meant a sizeable number of Leap Card users would be able to take advantage of it, and that number would grow as NFC adoption grew.

Read the Leap Card Case Study To Learn More

The bigger question was how best to take advantage of NFC technology. The NTA team wanted a secure, easy to use solution that would work with existing cards and card readers across multiple transport systems.

The solution was called Snapper and had been developed for public transport in New Zealand. In the Snapper scheme, NFC on the smartphone is used as a conduit to the card, reading and writing to the card to update the master balance and user journey history. Users could top up their accounts via a mobile app, then tap their smart cards to their phones and have them immediately updated via NFC.

NTA calls its Leap Card scheme “Transparent NFC.” NFC enables the smart card to be read and updated. Users interact with the solution via a mobile app. The Transparent NFC server provides the functionality to support the read/write use cases, including the capability to authenticate to all types of Leap Card. Nothing is constructed on the mobile app and no encryption keys are required to be stored on the mobile app, thereby ensuring a very secure solution for the user and the scheme.

Learn more about how NFC is impacting public transport. Get involved with the NFC Forum’s Mobility, Identity and Transport (MIT) Special Interest Group (SIG).

The results: a growing number of satisfied users

NTA’s “Transparent NFC” solution has been a success by any measure.

More importantly, passengers have become ongoing users of the solution, which has received reviews averaging more than 3.5 stars at the Google Play store. Usage of the NFC app during November, 2016 exceeded €1.5 million.

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