Automatic vending machines are gradually coming to replace traditional ticket sales kiosks. With these machines you can not only buy a travel ticket, but also top up a transport card 24/7. In the near future in Moscow, there will be 200 such TVMs, which look like satellites. How do you ensure their survival in the difficult conditions of a megalopolis? In an interview with CNews, Kirill Kislyakov, the director of the Revenue and Control Department of Mosgortrans, and Ilya Knyazev, the Chief Executive Officer of Progressive Self-Service Systems (I.T. Group) spoke about this topic.
CNews: Please tell us more about Mosgortrans.
Kirill Kislyakov: Mosgortrans SUE is a transport operator, as the name implies. Moreover, it is the world’s largest operator of ground-based public transport in megalopolises. Every day we transport about five and a half million people. This involves about 7,000 buses, trolleybuses, and trams. In Europe, a company that operates 800–900 buses on a line is considered a large enterprise. In comparison, the number of 7,000 is massive. In general, the level of public transport utilization in Moscow is very high. According to the Transportation Management Center, it is used by about 70% of people during peak hours. That’s why it’s not easy to organize the transportation process.
CNews: What does your department do?
Kirill Kislyakov: I am the director of the Revenue and Control Department of Mosgortrans SUE, which ensures the collection of fares. Naturally, we actively use information technologies in our work. For this reason one of the main activities of our department is the operation of an automated system that provides the issue, sale, and control of the circulation of tickets.
All of our sales channels are built on the basis of this system, except for the sale of single-trip tickets by the driver inside the vehicle. First, these are traditional ticket sales kiosks, which until recently were one of the main channels for selling ground transport tickets. Purchasing tickets at kiosks and from drivers still remains relevant today. The fact is that people are accustomed to interacting with other people and, despite the new possibilities, prefer to buy tickets at kiosks. Drivers continue to sell tickets as well, since kiosks are not installed at every stop, and a driver is always available. But the number of kiosks is gradually decreasing: at the end of 2015 there were about 500 kiosks in Moscow, and today there are about 100 left.
Second, any organization that has its own terminal network can connect to our information system and, after receiving an image of the electronic ticket, record it on a data medium. Our basic data medium is the Troika card, the main transport tool of the city, which makes it possible to record practically the entire range of tickets. In 2013 a new ticket tariff menu was introduced that was maximally adapted for various models of passenger behavior. The following tickets were introduced: combination tickets that may be used both on ground transport and in the subway; tickets with all-inclusive 90 minutes tariffs, in which you can transfer an unlimited number of times on ground transport within an hour and a half; convenient Koshelek ticket (digital wallet), which allows you to travel within a certain amount of money — a ticket resource.
The Troika card is available on a large number of data mediums. This can be a conventional plastic card or a phone with an NFC module allowing contactless interaction with terminal devices installed in ground and underground transport. These are bank cards that can also work with a contactless interface. This is the widest range of alternative data mediums — rings, key fobs, wrist bands. Broadly speaking, today there are many opportunities for convenient use of public transport. And our objective is to make it possible to purchase a ticket or top up an existing data medium as quickly and conveniently as possible.
CNews: Why did you decide to replace kiosks with vending machines?
Kirill Kislyakov: The fact is that the profitability of individual kiosks was very low, and their further support and development didn’t seem practical for the city. In addition, the kiosks worked the old-fashioned way – tickets were sold only by cash and only at certain times. It’s clear that for Moscow residents, who travel around the city almost around the clock, it’s inconvenient. Moreover, Moscow residents are already accustomed to non-cash payment, including via mobile phones. That’s why a device that can provide the full set of required payment functions just had to appear!
CNews: Tell us more about the project.
Kirill Kislyakov: Analysis performed in 2015 showed that sales channels may be optimized by installing vending machines for travel tickets. Actually, we weren’t the first in this endeavor. Shortly before that, in 2013, vending machines began to be installed in the entrance halls of the Moscow metro. However, the requirements for these machines were significantly different from ours.
Our machines must, firstly, sell all ticket products related to transport, and secondly, be suitable for use in street conditions. Streets, even in Moscow, are high-risk areas for high-tech equipment. In the metro, machines are kept warm and safe under constant supervision of personnel, but our machines are literally left to themselves, standing alone on the streets, and, of course, occasionally suffer because of this. In other words, it must be understood that the project that Mosgortrans implemented jointly with the Department of Transport is unique. I have never seen such futuristic devices as our TVMs (ticket vending machines) operated in street conditions.
So, in 2015, having determined the requirements, we held a tender, according to which we identified a supplier of ticket vending machines — Advanced Self-Service Systems. Mosgortrans bought its first 75 machines and in 2016 installed them on the city’s streets. After that, the machines were installed by the Department of Capital Repair within the city program “My Street” along with modern stop shelters equipped with device chargers and lighting. Ticket vending machines are placed next to some such stops, and are then transferred to our balance. As of today, 121 TVMs have been put into operation in Moscow, another 58 are in the commissioning stage, and about 20 more machines will be added to them. Thus, by the end of the year about 200 devices will operate in the city.
CNews: How do you manage these machines?
Kirill Kislyakov: At the first stage, when purchasing ticket vending machines, we obtained a basic software product that allows us to monitor their basic functions. With the increase in the number of devices, it became necessary to build a conventional system that would minimize the risks of machine operation in the city and reduce the costs for their maintenance and operation. And, of course, we needed a tool to monitor the operation of devices, collect statistics, and remotely manage the entire street network. For this reason we purchased a system to monitor and manage the fleet of machines built on the basis of PSS.Platform and, by mid-2017, we had a way to monitor and manage the entire street network of ticket vending machines.
At the same time, the volume of sales via machines began to grow. The fact is that almost a year since the introduction of TVMs, the demand for new devices has remained low. First, because we needed time to test and debug them. In 2016 we gradually increased the stability of operation of the devices, expanded their functionality. Second, people needed time to get used to them. Passengers are now beginning to actively use our machines. We are seeing how the number of card top ups using them is steadily growing. For the time being, it is about 2–3% of the total volume, but in the near future we expect this indicator to grow to the planned 15–20%.
CNews: What opportunities does PSS.Platform provide?
Ilya Knyazev: The conditions of the first tender for the supply of machines simultaneously incorporated delivery of software with pre-specified functionality.
During machine operation it became obvious that it was necessary to create a comprehensive management system for the entire network of devices. All this time our company was actively developing the PSS.Platform product. By the way, the software originally installed on the machines is part of this platform, which originally had a client-server architecture. That’s why we decided to create a server part on its basis responsible for managing the entire fleet of devices.
Consequently, when Mosgortrans needed a comprehensive monitoring system, we had already developed a relevant product. We created a specialized solution based on it oriented to the objectives of Mosgortrans.
At the same time, specialized solutions for other industries were developed on the basis of PSS.Platform. For example, in 2015–2016 we developed a solution for managing public lighting. At the moment, we are implementing a project to manage the network of vending machines for one of the major manufacturers of mass-market products. Therefore, today we have a universal Internet of Things platform for centralized management of many diverse technological objects and devices.
It is namely experience in various industries that has made our product universal. We use the OPCUA architecture standard, which allows us to connect to the system any equipment that has an external interface, from complex devices (motors, industrial transformers, etc.) to simple sensors. Essentially, on basis of PSS.Platform we can create convergent infrastructure solutions that allow us to combine discrete hardware and software elements, ensuring their control and interaction.
In particular, I want to emphasize the availability in PSS.Platform of modern tools for analyzing and presenting data, which make it possible to generate management and operational reports on key performance indicators of managed objects. We also initially established the possibility of storing historical data of any depth and their subsequent processing in predictive analytics models, for example, to formulate recommendations on maintenance of a given object.
Thanks to the presence of open API and SDK, our partners have the ability to create their own niche industry solutions based on PSS.Platform for their own customers. At the same time, the possibilities for partners to develop their own solutions are practically unlimited. The basic functionality of the object management system within PSS.Platform is implemented through a set of individual plug-ins that may be easily supplemented with both their own-developed plug-ins and plug-ins of external developers, including open source solutions.
It should be noted that working with such partners is an important part of Advanced Self-Service Systems’s business, since we physically cannot cover all industry expertise by ourselves.
If we talk about the scale of solutions based on PSS.Platform, then today, the technologies that we use make it possible to connect tens of thousands of devices to the platform.
CNews: Is it possible to use the platform from the cloud?
Ilya Knyazev: Yes, it may be deployed in the cloud as a service or transferred to the ownership of the customer, like in the project for Mosgortrans. But we haven’t met a single customer who would be interested in using the cloud solution.
CNews: Let's go back to the project for Mosgortrans. What information about ticket vending machines does it receive via PSS.Platform?
Kirill Kislyakov: First, this is data on the technical condition of machines and their individual components – dispenser, bill acceptor, card reader, touch screen, etc. – which allow you to take prompt response measures and ensure uninterrupted operation of devices.
Second, it’s the statistics on the operation of devices: how many banknotes there are in the bill acceptor and how many tickets there are in the stackers. This helps to plan the collection of money from the machines.
Another important function is remote device management. This may be installation of software updates, as well as issuance of commands related to the operation of the machine itself: turn off, restart, reset errors, and many others. Obviously, remote management is available only to a limited number of specially authorized users.
It’s clear that the information collected from the devices must be processed and turned into reporting sets. These reports are used by all services that ensure operation of ticket vending machines.
CNews: Do you plan to expand the solution?
Kirill Kislyakov: Of course, we always want something more! First, we would like to create a forecast mechanism for repairs, encashment, preventive measures, and so on based on information coming from the machines.
Second, we want the platform to create requests based on analytics or forecasts and send them to the relevant services by itself. This will allow to us automate the activities of maintenance personnel as much as possible and increase the reliability and stability of devices. I think that stable operation of and reliance on automatic machines are beneficial not only to us as a service company, but also to passengers who, seeing that the device works reliably and won’t cause mistakes that leave them without a transport card, ticket, or money, will use TVMs more often.
CNews: What unique experience did your company gain in the process of implementing the project for Mosgortrans?
Ilya Knyazev: This project was quite complex and unique in many ways. Unlike other self-service devices, these machines are extremely independent and more so resemble satellites scattered throughout the city. Therefore, the organizational approach to designing the system, to the processes that it must support, was completely different. The system provides about 800 lines of machine operation scenarios. Some of them are visible to the user, and some are service scenarios, including emergency ones. In the course of their implementation, we gained vast experience in understanding the responsibility and complexity of all these processes. Perhaps this is the most important thing.
Also, I would like to note that this project was implemented only due to the fact that our company and the Revenue and Control Department of Mosgortrans worked as a unified team. The customer managed to clearly formulate the task, and we were able to perform it in a qualified manner largely due to prompt feedback, weekly checks, and constructive analysis of errors.
An original transcript of the interview: CNews, 9.02.2018 г.