14 June 2024

Comparing Public Transport Fare Systems: Tap-In Tap-Out vs. EMV vs. Mobile Pay-As-You-Go

Comparing Public Transport Fare Systems: Tap-In Tap-Out vs. EMV vs. Mobile Pay-As-You-Go

Fare systems play a pivotal role in shaping the public transport user experience and operational efficiency. Each fare collection method comes with its own advantages and challenges. This blog post focuses on three prominent systems: the traditional card-based tap-in tap-out method, the up-and-coming EMV, and the emerging mobile pay-as-you-go (MPAYG) solutions. By examining these systems, we can understand why countries like Denmark have chosen to transition from tap-in tap-out to MPAYG to provide the best experience while preserving scarce resources to deliver what matters: frequent, reliable, comfortable and safe public transport.

Tap-In Tap-Out Systems

Overview and User Experience: Tap-in tap-out systems are widely used throughout Europe outside of German-speaking countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands. These systems traditionally require passengers to use a proprietary reloadable card to tap in at the start and tap out at the end of their journey. Fares are based on the distance travelled or zones crossed.


The cards must be topped up regularly

For users, tap-in tap-out systems provide a straightforward way to access public transportation without the need for paper tickets, smartphones or debit/credit cards. However, this convenience comes with significant challenges. Passengers must ensure that the card contains funds and must remember to tap in and out every time they board or alight a vehicle. Forgetting to tap out at the end of the trip can result in fines or higher fares, leading to frustration and elevated customer care enquiries. This negative experience can impact passengers’ willingness to use public transport and ultimately affect ridership and revenue for public transport operators.

Impact on Public Transport Operators: Tap-in tap-out systems do offer several advantages for public transport operators. When tapping out is demanded from users, detailed data on travel patterns can be collected, aiding in service planning and optimization. Again with a mandatory tap-out, these systems support a distance-based fare structure, which can be seen as fairer by users compared to flat-rate fare structures. Moreover, if installing compatible hardware across various modes of transport throughout a region is feasible, users can benefit from a unified and streamlined payment method.

However, the implementation and maintenance of tap-in tap-out systems involve significant challenges. The process of setting up this infrastructure is complex and time-consuming, requiring extensive planning and resources. The inflexibility of these systems makes it difficult to accommodate travel between jurisdictions unless every vehicle and station is equipped with compatible equipment. In fact, large-scale, hardware-based projects have frequently been delivered late and above budget. Deploying the necessary and highly customised system such as card readers and managing the issuance and reloading of cards generates not only significant capital costs, but ongoing costs for maintenance, repairs and upgrades while also potentially creating a vendor lock-in. Finally, each device failure means a loss of revenue for public transport, which needs to be offset by higher fares or subsidies, or reduced service levels. 

EMV Systems

Overview and User Experience: EMV systems have lately been implemented at a fast clip around the world. These hardware-based systems allow users to simply tap their debit or credit card at validators, eliminating the need to carry separate transit cards. This makes public transport more accessible, especially for occasional users. Additionally, EMV systems support branded reloadable cards, enhancing convenience and flexibility for regular commuters.


Impact on Public Transport Operators: Despite these benefits, EMV systems share the same downsides as traditional tap-in, tap-out systems. The implementation of EMV systems is typically lengthy and complex due to the extensive hardware deployment and integration required with financial institutions. The stringent payment security standards require regular hardware and software upgrades, adding to operational complexity. Moreover, reliance on external financial networks introduces risks, as issues with card issuers or banking systems can disrupt transit operations.

Furthermore, while EMV can accommodate distance-based fares, they require tap-outs which results in the same issue as with conventional card-based systems: a poor experience upon alighting and forgotten tap-outs. This can discourage authorities from implementing zone- or distance-based fares, which in turn can lead to expensive short trips. 

Operators receive limited data about trips, hindering their ability to optimise transit services based on detailed travel patterns. The lack of user data also hampers their ability to engage with their user base effectively. While users enjoy a simplified payment experience, they face challenges such as accessing discount entitlements without prior registration, reviewing their travel history, and travelling with companions, dogs, or bikes.

Denmark's transition from Tap-In Tap-Out to Mobile Pay-As-You-Go (MPAYG)

Denmark has long relied on the Rejsekort card, a tap-in tap-out system, but is now making a noteworthy transition to a nationwide MPAYG system. The Rejsekort system has been used by travellers in the whole country, with over 176 million journeys recorded in 2023. While it has provided precise fare calculation and integration across various transport modes, the system's cumbersome user experience and the penalties charged for forgetting to tap out have led over time to a low user satisfaction. 

Recognising the limitations of card- and hardware-based systems, Denmark is now moving towards a nationwide MPAYG system, marking a significant milestone in public transport ticketing. Following a stepwise procurement won by FAIRTIQ, the country has recently launched* the Rejsekort app - a MPAYG app based on the FAIRTIQ technology set to revolutionise the passenger experience in the whole country. Their current, card-based system is set to be replaced by the Rejsekort app in the following years.


*Developed within a tight timeline following the contract award, the mobile PAYG (Pay-as-you-go) app is currently available to a closed user group. It will be gradually rolled out to streamline the passenger experience over the coming months.

How Mobile pay-as-you-go (MPAYG) systems work

Overview and User Experience: The MPAYG technology by FAIRTIQ fully eliminates the need for physical cards and manual tapping and is integrated in many public transport apps in Europe, including the FAIRTIQ app or the Rejsekort app. Passengers open the app, and the closest stop or station is automatically recognised. Before boarding a bus or train, a single swipe starts the journey, producing a valid ticket without the need to specify the destination.

In contrast to tap-in tap-out and EMV systems, there is no need  to check-in and check-out when transferring. The app detects transfers without any action by the user, ensuring a hassle-free travel experience that seamlessly integrates different public transport modes. Upon arrival, a simple swipe ends the journey. If they forget, the app sends a notification or automatically ends the journey, providing additional peace of mind and preventing overpayment. 

The MPAYG technology detects passengers' routes based on location data and calculates the correct fare. The total price is optimised at the end of the day, ensuring that users pay the best fare for all journeys made in a day. FAIRTIQ’s MPAYG technology takes away the need to plan a journey in advance or worry about ticket combinations. All that is left to do is to swipe, board, and enjoy the ride.

Benefits for the industry: Mobile pay-as-you-go (MPAYG) systems offer numerous advantages for operators and authorities. The MPAYG technology is hardware-free, allowing rapid implementation timelines and reduced setup and maintenance costs. With no need for physical cards and card readers, MPAYG systems minimise infrastructure costs, making them more cost-effective to deploy and maintain.

Moreover, MPAYG systems provide insights into real travel behaviour from origin to destination, including the exact route taken by their passengers. Knowledge of detailed travel patterns allow for the optimisation of routes and tariffs, unlocking greater service efficiency and passenger satisfaction. Additionally, MPAYG not only provides a unified payment method across various transport modes that support distance-based pricing, but also different types of tariffs and incentives can be tested and applied flexibly and efficiently.

The advanced fraud management system for mobile pay-as-you-go ticketing allows effective monitoring and prevention of fraud across all active users and journeys. This system excels in detecting various fraud scenarios, such as users who start their journey too late (e.g., after boarding public transport or upon spotting an upcoming control) and those who end their journey prematurely (e.g., before disembarking or post-ticket inspection). It identifies and blocks fraudulent users attempting to re-register with new accounts by comparing personal details with previously blocked accounts. Additionally, the system addresses issues like phones being turned off during journeys and automatically warns and ends journeys if GPS settings are incorrect. 

For users, MPAYG systems improve the experience by offering more convenience and pricing accuracy, leading to increased satisfaction and higher ridership. Innovative marketing measures can also be implemented more effectively, further impacting passenger engagement and ridership. For public transport operators, MPAYG systems help to reduce operational costs, increase operational efficiency, and grow ridership, ultimately contributing to increased revenue and satisfaction.


The shift from traditional tap-in tap-out systems to mobile pay-as-you-go solutions represents a significant evolution in fare collection. While tap-in tap-out and EMV systems have their strengths, for instance in terms of fare calculation and travel data, their cumbersome nature and high costs can be challenging for both passengers and operators.

Mobile pay-as-you-go systems like FAIRTIQ offer a more integrated and user-friendly approach, addressing many of the pain points associated with traditional fare collection methods. By eliminating the need for separate cards and reducing the risk of penalties, MPAYG provides a seamless and efficient travel experience for passengers while offering significant operational benefits for public transport operators.

As public transportation systems continue to evolve, embracing mobile pay-as-you-go solutions can pave the way for more efficient, user-friendly, and adaptable transit networks, ensuring a smoother ride for everyone. Denmark's adoption of the Rejsekort app powered by FAIRTIQ exemplifies this shift, promising a new era of convenience and efficiency for public transport passengers.