Alberto Moreno, founder of Baolau, compares the different approaches to ticketing across Southeast Asia and presents the latest advances in China and Japan…
Even though railway infrastructure and rolling stock in Southeast Asia is less modern than China or Japan, the national railway operators in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia have quickly modernized their reservation systems and adapted their ticketing procedures to new technologies that are easy to use for both domestic and international travelers.
Prior to 2015, passengers who wanted to travel by train in Vietnam had no other option than to head to the station, queue at the ticket counter, and purchase the ticket.
Vietnam Railways officially launched an online ticket system on 1st September 2015. Through the website www.dsvn.vn, passengers could book seats, pay online and receive the electronic tickets by email. The system required passengers to input their full name and ID number or passport during the booking process, making the tickets not transferable.
The new online booking system was put under pressure in the Spring of 2016, when hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens returned to their hometowns by train for the occasion of the Lunar New Year festival. Têt, as it is known in Vietnam, is the busiest season in the country and stations were traditionally packed with passengers queuing for hours to get a ticket. This situation created the perfect environment for ticket scalpers, who would purchase tickets in advance and re-sell them at inflated prices. With the introduction of the online ticket booking, Vietnam Railways was determined to put an end to both problems: the queues at the stations and the ticket fraud.
In the first years of operation, passengers who booked online with Vietnam Railways were instructed to print the e-ticket in advance or obtain a printed copy at the station. Tickets were examined and the passenger identify was verified by the staff before accessing the platform. On board, a train conductor carrying a QR code reader would scan the QR code printed on the ticket to verify the seat.
In recent years, Vietnam Railways has managed to speed up the boarding procedures by installing automatic gates at the stations. Passengers can scan the QR code printed on the ticket, whether it is a physical ticket, or a digital copy stored in the mobile phone to access the train platform. The pilot program was run at Hanoi Railway Station and Saigon Railway Station on December 2017, and it was later extended to other major stations.
The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) introduced an online ticket service for first time in August 2011. The website
www.thairailwayticket.com allowed passengers to book train tickets in advance, however the online service was suspended abruptly in January 2013.
It was not until February 2017 that a new online ticket reservation system entered into operation. The new service came into effect on 1st February 2017 and it was made accessible through the website www.thairailwayticket.com/eTSRT/.
As of now, online reservations require passengers to enter their full name and ID number or passport number, which means that the tickets are not transferable. Passengers receive the electronic ticket by email.
The electronic ticket is valid for boarding, but passengers are required to print out the e-ticket in advance and carry the printout. Digital copies stored on a mobile phone are not accepted by the State Railway of Thailand, since the conductor on board will inspect and punch the paper ticket.
The national railway operator KERETAPI TANAH MELAYU BERHAD (KTMB) launched an online reservation system on 20th March 2011, through the website ktmb.com.my. The system has gone through several updates and improvements in recent years, it has also been adapted to a mobile version.
Currently, passengers can book tickets online and receive an electronic ticket which is valid for boarding via email. The e-ticket contains a QR code and the passenger details, therefore it’s not transferable. Passengers are required to print a copy of the e-ticket in advance or at the station for inspection and verification before accessing the train platform.
Thanks to these technological developments, passengers have been able to book train tickets online in advance when traveling in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.
It is not until recently that train stations in China started eliminating paper tickets and transition to a digital ticketing system. The new e-ticket is based on a QR code sent straight to the mobile phone by the 12306 mobile app used for reservations. China Railway has been piloting the new paperless system since December 2019 at nearly one hundred stations, including Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, and in selected routes, such as Beijing–Shanghai, Chengdu–Chongqing, Guangzhou–Shenzhen and Kunming–Dali–Lijiang.
In Japan, JR GROUP decided to implement ticketless service through IC cards, such as SUICA, PASMO, ICOCA, TOICA and SUGOCA. The system has been available on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines since 2017, and it is expected to be introduced in other high-speed railway lines in 2022. IC cards are available in a physical format as chip-installed contactless cards or in a mobile app format, although the system is not prepared to use for international travelers outside Japan, who are still required to collect the physical tickets from the machine.
Baolau is a multi-modal travel search engine specialising in Asia. The online service aggregates information for multiple types of transportation, including flights, trains, buses and ferries, calculates routes between cities, and facilitates ticket booking. Established in Vietnam in 2015, the travel company is an official agent of Vietnam Railways and Royal Railway of Cambodia. The web platform integrates train booking in Thailand, Malaysia, China, Taiwan and Japan.
Alberto Moreno is Co-Founder and CEO of Baolau.