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Amsterdam Tourists Go Contactless

A new preprogrammed RFID card gives tourists faster access to transportation around the city, as well as to museums and other attractions.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 23, 2007A new RFID-enabled visitor pass will be available this year to tourists visiting Amsterdam, allowing access to the city's attractions without having to place a card through a scanner. The Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board (ATCB) is issuing about 100,000 of the cards to some of the city's 10 million annual visitors. Those who prepay for the card can access 25 museums and other attractions, as well as the city's public transit system.

The I Amsterdam Card was deployed in January, enabling visitors to bypass the ticket desks of museums and other attractions throughout Amsterdam, such as the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and De Nieuwe Kerk, without stopping to have the card scanned. This could save each visitor nearly one minute, leading shorter faster lines of people waiting to be admitted to the attractions. ATCB designed the card and piloted it for one month to determine if it was working properly before making it available to the general public. The card grants free access to 25 museums, a canal boat trip and use of pubic transportation in the city for the specific dates on which the holder is scheduled to be in town, as well as a 25 percent discount on other attractions and restaurants.

Patrick van Es
The idea of a visitor's card is not new. ATCB has produced a city card for tourists since 1982—first as a voucher booklet, then, starting in 2003, as an electronic chip card. However, since it was time for the city to replace the existing chip readers, it opted to upgrade to the latest technology, RFID. Previously, tourists swiped the I Amsterdam Card in a proprietary reader, with each transaction taking 30 to 40 seconds to complete. Now, transactions can be completed within one second since the RFID reader captures ID numbers instantly. The card need only be within range of the antenna—three to four centimeters—says Patrick van Es, ATCB's manager of information technology management.

The new RFID-enabled card spent two years in development before the January deployment. The card is embedded with a passive RFID read-write chip operating at 13.56 MHz and complying with ISO standard 14443A. It holds information regarding activation and expiration dates, as well as the number of visits authorized. ATCB developed its own handheld heavy-duty PDA-based system for the test, with 40 handheld readers running on Windows Mobile 5 at each of the attractions. "We are currently testing the desktop readers and programmers," van Es says, "which will be implemented at the end of 2007 or early 2008."

"We had several goals to achieve [in] developing the system," van Es says. "One of the main goals was the speed and contactless possibilities of RFID." He notes that ATCB wanted a smart and flexible system that could be used for cards specialized for particular visitor types, though such cards have not yet been developed.

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