Greg Alcorn of Synectics explores Single Token Travel and how the concept is being received across Asia Pacific

Where Smart Rail was once an aspirational concept, there are now many working examples of it in Asia. Networks fed by analytics and device-driven data, to ultimately streamline and improve journey times and services, are increasingly common across the region.

Which begs the question, what is next for rail in a region already leading the world when it comes to utilizing technology? Single Token Travel could be that next step to offer a completely connected journey for passengers.

Where Single Token Travel can take us

Single Token Travel, or Single Identity Travel as it is sometimes referred to, is a concept currently more closely associated with airports. The premise is simple, one passenger, one journey, one digital security token (ID) that unlocks and manages the different stages in the journey through the airport.

What if this did not just apply to airports and had a more inclusive purpose rather than simply for security? What if the same principles could be applied to a journey that spanned air, bus, and rail, creating a seamless transition between modes of transport for a truly holistic passenger experience?

Singapore is leading the way with this exciting possibility, pioneering the adoption and convergence of smart technologies. The presence of simplified management structures means rail services are neatly aligned with bus, metro, airport, and soon even taxi services – all to the overall benefit of citizens, the economy, and tourism. Last year arrivals to Singapore increased by 6.2 per cent to 17.4 million, a statistic that can in part be attributed to the superior passenger experience delivered.

Given the number of Smart Rail projects already operational or under construction in places like Jakarta, Beijing, and Bangkok, and the evolved technology available to simplify system convergence, there is huge potential for other major Asian cities to follow suit with smart, connected journeys to unlock similar benefits.

To better understand how, let’s first look at what happens in Singapore in a bit more detail – from a passenger perspective.

A spotlight on Singapore

A large number of citizens have the mobile application from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on their phone.

They all have tickets which they can use to hop on, off, and between rail, bus, metro, and airport services. Their transit is smooth; they enter stations quickly with efficient ticketing, flowing gates and escalators, always with the latest information on travel times, issues, and updates at their fingertips.

The trains they board are on time and, thanks to passenger counting technology and algorithmic optimization that enables trains to run closer together, there are reduced crowd pressures. Passengers also benefit from full Wi-Fi connectivity, so they can access entertainment or continue to work on the move.

The wide-scale usage of the mobile application means that passengers in Singapore have also become the eyes of the authorities. They can send alerts about incidents, damage, or other kinds of disruption by taking and submitting pictures via the app. These can then be streamed to the relevant personnel such as cleaners, engineers, police, or even the defence forces for serious incidents.

Singapore prides itself on the reputation of its transport infrastructure. More connected passengers have a unified and louder voice, and it reflects poorly on the city if the transit network is not running as promised. This in turn keeps the authorities on the front foot with development and optimization.

Technology that makes Single Token Travel possible

Replicating the efficacy of the system adopted in Singapore can appear quite daunting. Linking to apps and multiple aspects of city management might seem a complex set-up that is difficult to achieve.

This is not necessarily the case, a rail operator wishing to be part of a connected transport infrastructure like that of Singapore requires three components:

1) A way to collate and interrogate owned data i.e. information from disparate devices and systems located on trains and across supporting network infrastructure such as GPS, telematics, surveillance, passenger counting systems, analytics, communications, scheduling and staffing databases, emergency systems etc.

2) The ability to pair the owned data with external sources i.e. information from other transport operators, authorities, agencies, and indeed passengers. These can include weather warnings, incident bulletins, social media reports and service scheduling updates

3) A mechanism for automating actions based on the combined data to respond to evolving needs, circumstances, and customer demands, from shutting down areas of track or updating live passenger information displays and apps, to notifying other service providers (transport, city, leisure e.g. shopping malls/event venues) of passenger issues and security threats.

These requirements can be easily addressed through the adoption of integrated centralized command and control software.

When operators have the full picture, passengers can too

Open architecture command and control solutions allow data from any third-party system to be monitored and managed from a single unified interface, connecting and converging these individual systems over an IP network and capitalizing on wireless connectivity where possible.

This gives rail operators the overarching view of their services, passenger activity, and information relating to city-wide events they need in order to provide the connected and informed service passengers want if a new era of Single Token Travel is to dawn.

Through interoperability and tailorable workflows, command and control solutions such as these also provide a simplified mechanism for automating services and responses based on live data received.

Examples might include approving passengers for onward travel based on biometric data (to prevent barrier congestion); using GPS data from vehicles and external traffic analysis to automatically update passenger information points (on vehicles, apps, and at appropriate interchange points) to aid smooth transition from rail to other transport modes; or, from a security perspective, pushing images of individuals identified as persons of interest to police at the nearest next stop.

In Bangkok, by pairing facial recognition technology with traveller card information, this ability to combine real-time data sets and automate activity based on criteria met could actually be used to issue fines for eating food on a train. The possibilities are almost limitless.

Systems based on a centralized command and control platform of this nature are also responsive to major factors that might influence service provision and safety, like weather for example. If there is a tropical downpour, weather information can be used to open flood gates, trigger alternative routes, or even alternative transit mode protocols so citizens can remain on the move.

Is this future unstoppable?

While increasing instances of cities adopting this new breed of joined-up Single Token Travel is inevitable ‒ particularly in Asia where transport operating structures and, more specifically, state-owned infrastructures more readily lend themselves to this approach – progress is not without obstacle.

Connectivity is one factor that poses a challenge. To be part of a smart transport operation that supports Single Token Travel, operators need greater bandwidth to support live, mobile device connections to the wider network. However, as a world frontrunner in 5G development, the Asia Pacific region is likely to jump this hurdle sooner than most.

Security is a further concern; system convergence creates a tempting target. Operators will require rock-solid cybersecurity measures to block attacks, or else hackers would be able to roam free and cause untold damage.

Privacy is another factor; operators and public agencies need to ensure the correct management protocols are implemented to protect citizen rights while also helping passengers reap the benefits of connected services.

These are all considerations that demand technical address, but they are not barriers to development. Asia Pacific rail operators already have the individual elements they need to follow Singapore’s lead, make the connections necessary to improve their own services, and ensure that these fit neatly into a broader, smarter network that truly supports seamless, multi-modal transport and meets evolving passenger demands.


Greg Alcorn is Divisional Director, Transport & Infrastructure at security and surveillance company Synectics