Exploring the Why, What and How of biometrics in transit

November 22, 2016 - How can PTOs and PTAs leverage biometric implementations

Emerging biometric technologies and techniques such as fingerprint scanners and facial recognition software are being seen more and more. The use of biometrics in payments industries and by governments in personal identification is becoming more common, however, implementations in transit are rarer. In this blog post, we explore the why, what and how of biometrics in public transport and how public transport authorities or operators (PTOs/PTAs) can leverage their implementation.


Modern transit ticketing systems have some form of automated fare collection (AFC) based on smart cards. In this scheme, every customer carries a smart card which is used as a single factor authentication (“something you have”). There are a number of reasons to consider implementing biometrics in transit: enhance the customer experience, getting to know your customer, or prevent identity fraud. This post will focus on using biometrics to reduce identity fraud.
It is very common for PTOs/PTAs to have concession cards within an AFC scheme. These give discounted travel rights to specific people, for example, senior or student travellers. Customers must apply for a concession based on their profile. One form of fraud that PTOs/PTAs are seeing more often is identity fraud, meaning that someone uses a concession card without being eligible for its benefits. It is here where biometrics can play a role in combating identity theft.


Generally, biometrics refers to metrics related to human characteristics. Physiological characteristics offer an exact method of identification of a person which perfectly complements and enhances the existing AFC identification system. Biometrics can be applied as a dual factor of authentication (“something you have”, a smart card together with “something you are”, facial identity) in order to confirm the identity of the card holder.
In transit cameras placed at the validator devices can be used to take pictures whenever a customer with a concession card checks in. The uniqueness of the face captured in combination with facial recognition software allows PTOs to match and confirm the identity of the traveller. This process is likely to happen by comparing the taken picture of the traveller against a facial identity profile previously registered linked to the concession card itself. If identification fraud is detected, PTOs/PTAs can take further actions such as blocking the customer card to prevent further fraud.


PTOs/PTAs can implement a complete solution for combating identity theft in two simple steps while keeping their current AFC system intact.

  1. From a hardware point of view, PTOs need to integrate stand-alone cameras next to their validator devices. Future readers can be designed/acquired with already a built-in facial recognition camera.
  2. In the back office, an intelligent software tool is required to perform the processing and inspection of the different images taken at customer check in. This facial recognition software will autonomously evaluate each image taken against the facial identity profile generated during the customer onboarding process.

There are a number of key points that should be considered to guarantee a successful biometrics in transit fraud detection implementation:

  • Regulation & Compliance: As sensitive customer personal data is stored different standards, regulations or certification may be applicable. This is highly dependent on the region where the solution is implemented.
  • Customer experience: Day to day customer experience will not be altered in such a system. However, onboarding into the central system will differ between implementations. One possibility is simply taking existing citizen images from a (government) database. Alternatively, a registration process must be set up to acquire the customer images at the time of issuing a concession card at the PTOs’ office.
  • Privacy: The sensitive biometric data should be protected sufficiently to ensure the privacy of the customer. The customers should be confident that their data is not exposed. The security measures implemented are dependent on the relevant specific regulations.
  • Performance: In transit, transaction times are of vital importance. In order to process transactions in only a few milliseconds, the validation of the pictures cannot be done in real time. At the time of the check in, the picture should be marked as a concession card for validation. At a later time, the photo will be downloaded to the central system and automatic analysis will be performed. At this point, the PTOs/PTAs can take further action such as issue a warning or blocking a concession card via blacklist so it cannot be used the next time.

We currently see that in some parts of the world the problem of identity fraud is more prevalent than others. One such area is South America and here we see regions of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro already have live implementations of biometrics in transit which are currently successfully reducing identity fraud. We understand that biometrics in transit are no longer an unrealistic and futuristic idea, but, will it catch on in the rest of the world and how long will widespread adoption take?



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