QR Codes For Transit Systems

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It seems that there is no end to what the humble little QR code can accomplish.

From protecting autistic children to preserving knowledge for future generations to enabling us to shop from our mobile devices, this diminutive square filled with dashes and dots is changing the world around us. And its latest conquest is transit.

Yes, the QR Code is making changes to how the residents of Ottawa, Canada’s capital, will ride the bus.QR Codes For Transit Systems

Introducing OC Transpo

Some of you may be shrugging your shoulders, saying “Who cares about some transit system in Canada?” The fact is that OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit provider, boasts a massive bus system with almost 950 buses, 141 bus routes covering 5584 kilometres, and over 5800 stops. Approximately 240,000 people use the bus on any given weekday.

As a city that relies principally on buses for its mass transit needs, Ottawa is an ideal test-bed for seeing what the QR Code can do to improve customer service and cut costs.

The QR Code Meets the “Transfer”

When a passenger needs to connect with another route, they present a transfer paper to the bus driver. In the current system, the driver has to check the transfer for validity. With the QR code system, these transfers will have a QR code printed on them, enabling riders to scan their own tickets as they board.

Why It’s a Good Thing

As the first major transit system to utilize QR codes in this way, OC Transpo is taking a big risk. But they believe that the benefits outweigh any potential problems. Here are some of those plusses.

• Increases efficiency. By enabling passengers to scan their own transfers, this will allow them to board more quickly, lighten the drivers’ workloads, and prevent human error by instantly recognizing invalid transfers.

• Cuts costs. Many cities have adopted systems that use magnetic cards. These cards cost an average of $0.25 to create. The transfer slip, however, costs a mere $0.04. Furthermore, the QR codes can be printed on the existing transfer paper, negating the need for new printing equipment. These considerations translate into huge savings.

• Uses trouble-free equipment. The readers required for QR codes contain very few moving parts, making them less expensive and difficult to maintain than other options.

• Prepares for future applications. This experience with using QR codes may lead to OC Transpo adopting them in other ways. One possibility is through enabling passengers to access a website where they can purchase fares whenever needed.

• Paves the way for others. As the proverbial “guinea pig” when it comes to this use of the QR code, all eyes will be on Ottawa. If this venture proves successful, it is likely that other major centers will also make this shift.

What the detractors are saying.

As the first major transit system to adopt the QR code, Ottawa is bound to face a certain degree of skepticism and outright criticism. Many worry about the likelihood of unforeseen problems down the road. OC Transpo, however, states that they are well aware of the potential risks and remind the public that they have actually increased their cost predictions in order to tackle any problems that do crop up.

Yes, this wee little barcode is taking over the world of transit one transfer at a time. And, it seems that there is no end to what it can do. I wonder what new adventure awaits us as we follow the progress of the QR code.

How do you feel about OC Transpo’s adoption of the QR Code? Is it a wise move, an act of stupidity, or somewhere in between?

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer and avid blogger. She loves anything with wheels and has written on custom and vintage cars, hydrogen-fuelled automobiles, and bad credit auto dealers. You can follow her neurotic and OCD ramblings at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.

 

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