Case Study: Avantix Multi-Ticket system that uses ISDN technology

The new Avantix ticket, payment and notification system can calculate the fares for up to 50 million UK fare permutations.

The new Avantix ticket, payment and notification system can calculate the fares for up to 50 million UK fare permutations.

Over one hundred thousand passengers travel on the Thames Rail Link service every day. Eight of the 51 stations serviced by Thames link are currently testing a new technology, designed to shorten travelling times. The new Avantix system provides a complete ticketing, payment and notification system, within a smart vending machine. Compared with traditional ticket machines, this system offers many advanced features for both users and administrators.

Martin Walters, marketing and communication manager for Thameslink explains: "Many of our ticket machines have been with us for some time, some in quite hostile environments. What we were looking for was a system that was both durable, easy to operate and helped our customers to just 'Turn up and Go'."

The Avantix concept comes in two versions. Both the Avantix Fast-Fare and Multi-Ticket systems are based on a rugged chassis with a built-in screen. Applications run on a Pentium class microprocessor, under Windows NT. The system can have one of several built-in communication devices, including modems, ISDN adapters or even direct connection to a network.

Both versions of the system allow customers to select a journey, quickly pay and receive a ticket to travel. The smaller Fast-Fare system offers the 10 most popular fare destinations and common options like return ticket, child and student fares. The only method of payment accepted is electronic credit and debit cards, with authorisation taking approximately 20 seconds. This system eliminates the need for money handling and is both compact and reliable.

The more advanced Avantix Multi-Ticket accepts coins and notes in addition to cards. All UK currency is accepted, as well as the Euro - a fact that is less surprising when you consider that the system also can display both travel and ticketing information in up to four languages. The system can also be programmed with current special offers and commonly requested information about destinations or changes to service. When a customer selects a destination, the system will show different routes and saving schemes, from the most expensive to the least expensive travel plans.

To achieve this impressive functionality, each machine has a number of applications, written primarily in C++ and CORBA, which draw on information contained within a gigabyte-sized database. These applications and database make Avantix an incredibly versatile system, with each individual unit able to calculate the fares for any of the possible 50 million UK fare permutations. It can also connect to a full database containing the increasing complex and highly variable UK rail timetable.

To keep all this fare information current and to monitor the current operational status of each machine, every Avantix needs to communicate with a central control location. This can be achieved using British Rail's existing Very High Speed Data Ring (VHSDR), which is currently used for timetable and signalling information, while more remote locations use ISDN lines.

The central administration centre handles all card authorisation procedures and checks on stock and currency levels inside each machine via the necessary connection method. The system is currently only in the first stage of its deployment, with a limited four-week trial. The trail has proved great successes, especially with customers who use electronic payment methods.

Although the Multi-Ticket is only in the trial stage, several rail providers including Chiltern railway and Connex South Central have introduced the Fast-Fare. What was the reaction at ground level? Business consultant Phillip Ermiya's comments were typical of the many customers using the system: "In the morning when it's really busy, I tend to use the Fast-Fare machine as it's quick to use and I've got a list of all my journeys on my credit card statement". The Avantix system is likely to be adopted by a large number of rail service providers over the next couple of years. Look out for one in a station near you.

Will Garside.

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