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Helsinki Commuters Use RFID to Get Transit Updates, Post Messages

By tapping an NFC-enabled phone against the tags installed at 211 tram stops, riders can buy tickets or upload and view comments on Helsinki Region Transport's online message wall.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 05, 2012Customers of the nine transit lines operated by Helsinki Region Transport (HRT) can now employ Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled mobile phones to pay for tickets, as well as post messages to other passengers and the transit authority, online. The pilot, known as Pysäkkiseinä—which translates as "Tram Stop Wall"—utilizes TagAge RFID technology provided by Hansaprint. The six-month pilot ended on Dec. 1. However, the tags are still in use, and the agency is currently reviewing the results and considering whether to make the installation permanent, and whether to expand it.

The technology was being tested in order to determine whether NFC tags could make commuting via HRT's streetcars more convenient and enjoyable—by enabling ticket purchasing onsite, as well as providing some entertainment in the form of a virtual wall on which travelers could post messages. However, it could also provide a service for HRT, by allowing commuters to post information about the trams, including whether they are on time, and suggestions for how the schedule might be improved.

Helsinki Region Transport installed a pair of NFC RFID tags at each of 211 tram shelters.

HRT is now reviewing the data collected during the pilot, in order to determine how often the tags were interrogated, as well as when and where this occurred, says Susanna Ollila, the project planner at Forum Virium Helsinki, an organization established by that city in 2005. Forum Virium Helsinki develops new digital services in cooperation with businesses, public-sector organizations and the city's residents. Its members include handset manufacturer Nokia and telecommunications solutions provider TeliaSonera. HRT contracted Forum Virium Helsinki to oversee the pilot. The company may opt to expand the solution to other tram stops if it determines that the technology provided a benefit to commuters, as well as to HRT itself. Nokia provided consulting services related to how NFC phones would operate with the system, while media company Sanoma Group's Metro Newsletter division manages the wall on which the messages are posted.

Forum Virium Helsinki's Susanna Ollila
For the Pysäkkiseinä pilot, Hansaprint selected labels, and then printed and encoded each label's Smartrac BullsEye NFC RFID tags, which typically sell for about €0.90 ($1.18) apiece. In September 2011, HRT launched the pilot, attaching two BullsEye NFC labels, each containing an NXP Semiconductors NTAG203 RFID chip, to the walls of 211 covered tram stops.

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