Not much appears to have changed in the way we pay for tickets in public transport in Mumbai even in 2020 – the long queues for buying tickets or a bus conductor fumbling for change in a crowded bus peak hours. Not something that “Mumbaikars” can be proud of in this pulsating city where around 20 million ridership occurs day in day out across multiple suburban rail, metro and bus services – perhaps the largest public transport ridership for a city globally. Forget digital ticketing wave that is sweeping rest of the world – We have a long way to go to becoming almost cashless for ticketing in public transport.

It is not that local city planners and Govt. haven’t noticed and acted upon the need to have an interoperable and modern ticketing system for Mumbai. I recall the first real attempt by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) happened a decade back (~2009-10), when a JV of KPMG advisory services and Sequoia smart solutions was hired to assist them in this endeavor. However, at the same time, Ministry of Urban Development, New Delhi had also started the process of bringing out standards and specification for common mobility card (CMC) for the country as a whole. In the din of endless debates & consultations that accompanied this move, this novel and unique initiative by MMRDA could not take off – but kudos to them for having the foresight a decade back to improve ticketing system for larger public good in commuting in the city of Mumbai.

Fast forward to 2016-17 from 2009-10, when Govt. at central and many states finally decided to adopt open loop payment specifications that payment banks adopt for general retail payments with some modification for transit in line with global trends. This specification is the widely talked about National Common Mobility Card Specifications (NCMC) in India. “Rupay”, the domestic card scheme of National Payment Corp. of India, very soon brought out a Rupay Contactless payment card scheme tailored to suit interoperable cashless ticketing urban public transport. It is reliably learnt that other payment schemes like Mastercard and VISA are also bringing out their version of card specifications conforming to NCMC.

With the payment schemes laying the foundation for card and ticketing systems interface which are interoperable as well as the rules that govern security, standardization etc. as per EMV standards norms, the stage was set for the Banks to enter the fray.

Soon, banks started taking notice of this huge pan India opportunity of nearly 50 to 55 million daily ridership in urban transport which roughly translates to about 30 million consumer commuters spending nearly Rs. 28,000 Crores a year on ticketing transaction alone. Wow! This kind of spending rival the fancied General Retail Payment industry crowded with issuers, acquirers and payment schemes jostling for market share for the last several decades.

A beginning in this direction of was made though experimenting with open loop payment instruments, when two of India’s largest private banks i.e. Axis Bank for Kochi Metro and ICICI Bank for Amdabad BRTS decided to take the plunge in 2017 by securing contract for ticketing. However, the commercial aspect of the tender from said Public Transport authorities stipulated winner Bank monopoly in issuing tickets and hence the concept got limited to their base of card customers. Further, digital ticketing acceptance was not factored in rendering the whole exercise not very commuter friendly. Nevertheless, we need to acknowledge the vision of these public transport authorities for taking this significant step in the annals of Indian public transport in urban areas.

The single Bank model for issuing open loop instruments as tickets for travel soon morphed in to bank agnostic issuing for open loop tickets in view of public demand and Govt. directives. Public Transport organisations in Mumbai and a few other cities like Chennai, Pune etc. are currently moving in this direction. The only operating Metro Rail transport currently in Mumbai that connects eastern and western suburbs of Mumbai and operated by Metro One Operation Pvt. Ltd (MOOPL), a joint venture company owned by Reliance Infrastructure and RATP Dev Transdev Asia with half a million ridership per day has already commenced work in this direction. They have forged a partnership with Axis Bank, Mumbai and could be the first to be off the block in this mode that promises better customer experience in buying tickets for travel in Mumbai. Down south, Chennai Metro too has taken the initiative in changing their legacy Automatic Fare Collection System to issue and accept open loop bank cards and is expected to go in to a bank model for ticketing there.

These developments augur well for urban public transport in Indian and to put it euphemistically in the Indian context – “The Juggernaut seems to finally move for a better experience akin to the royal “Rath Yatra” ride of Lord Jagannath in India

The ridership statistics and ticketing values quoted in this paper are derived and extrapolated from following sources that are in public knowledge: –
⦁ PWC Payment Newsletter June 2019
dated 29.1.2020