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“Your face, please”: biometric identification in the operation of public transport

Biometric identification in the operation of public transport— RecFaces

At the beginning of 2021, the global media spread the news about the imminent launch of FacePay technology in million-plus cities' subway. The topic of “payment by face” caused heated discussions in the society.

This interest is quite understandable: for domestic realities, the project really looks like a breakthrough, and something exotic. But on a global scale, many countries have been engaged in the introduction of facial recognition technologies on public transport for a long time. Today we will look at the advantages of using biometric identification at transport infrastructure facilities.

Table of Contents

Security and once again security
Comfort and speed
Optimization of public transport routes
“Seamless” travel
Paying for travel “by face”
How it works
Advantages of the technology

Security and once again security

Public transport is traditionally a place of large crowds of people. This means that it automatically becomes a “gold mine” for criminals. Warnings about the theft of luggage at the stations of Rome or Milan are found in most travel guides to Italy, and pickpockets in the subway have long become no less a full-fledged symbol of Barcelona than the famous Sagrada Familia. Conflicts with fights also occur with unenviable regularity on transport. It is not difficult to find examples of such incidents: it is enough to open the news feed of any online newspaper.

Equipping video surveillance cameras with a face recognition function helps to prevent possible accidents and reduces the overall crime rate at transport infrastructure facilities. Security officers or transport police receive notifications about an incident or the appearance of an undesirable person (a wanted citizen or a person from the “stop list”) in real time. Thanks to this, the actions of law enforcement officers become more coordinated and operational.

In 2016, the project of the “smart” video surveillance system was implemented at the Southern Bus Station of Madrid. This is a key transport hub on the scale of not only the Spanish capital, but also the whole country. The bus terminal is connected to metro and railway stations, and annually serves more than 20 million passengers. Biometric identification was equipped with nine video surveillance cameras installed in strategic locations of the bus station: at the entrances and exits from the terminal, transitions to metro stations and railway platforms. According to the companies Herta Security and Axis Communications, which were engaged in the implementation of the project, by 2019 the number of thefts and acts of vandalism at the bus station decreased by 75%. Systematic work to identify violators helped to expand the “stop lists”, which made the use of biometrics in video surveillance systems even more effective.

Facial recognition technologies also help to increase the detection of crimes by speeding up investigations So, in 2020, RecFaces, together with Pelco, introduced biometric identification into the video surveillance system of the Nairobi International Airport in Kenya. One of the key results of the project was the reduction of the time required for the disclosure of incidents. The airport security service no longer needs to spend several hours watching video archives. It is enough just to have a photo of the wanted person in order to get comprehensive information about the trajectory of his movement around the airport in a couple of minutes. Data on the passages of all people are stored in long-term archives. If necessary, they can be sorted by date, time, location or a specific observation zone.

Note that we are not necessarily talking about the search and detention of criminals, potential terrorists or fans of illegal graffiti in the subway. The use of biometric identification on transport also performs a “social” function, helping in the search for lost children or elderly people with Alzheimer's disease.

Finally, speaking about the role of biometric identification in transport, it is worth mentioning the advantages of introducing the technology into the operation of ACS of large transport hubs. Airports and train stations are not only millions of passengers, but also an impressive staff of employees. The enrichment of access control systems with facial recognition technology makes it possible to differentiate access to office premises and prevent the facts of illegal entry into security facilities.

Comfort and speed

Optimization of public transport routes

The use of biometric identification in the work of public transport is an important element in the concept of “Smart Cities”, which we have already discussed in the RecFaces blog. A video surveillance camera with facial recognition technology is able to count the number of passengers in the vehicle's interior. With the help of the obtained data, it is possible to determine the routes with the highest passenger traffic and set the exact boundaries of peak hours. In the future, based on the analysis, specialists can optimize the transport schedule. For example, to increase or reduce the number of departures on the lines.

“Seamless” travel

One of the most promising areas for the introduction of biometric identification is large transport hubs, such as airports. The introduction of facial recognition technology can speed up the passage of pre-flight formalities by 30% at all stages: from check-in to customs control. Today, air harbors around the world rely on biometrics. And in some airports (for example, Singapore and Dubai), the concept of “seamless” travel is fully implemented, when a passenger does not need any documents except his own face during the entire stay in the terminal. You can read more about this in the article of the RecFaces blog.

Paying for travel “by face”

How it works

Today, technologies for paying for public transport using biometric passenger data are being tested in many countries around the world. In some of them, the system has been successfully used for several years.

China is at the forefront. Since 2019, payment based on facial recognition technology has been operating in the Zhengzhou metro. The system is also implemented in the metro of other major cities of the Middle Kingdom, including Shanghai, Nanjing and Shenzhen. In addition to the subway, the “face-to-face payment” service is being implemented everywhere on China's land transport. At the entrance to the vehicle interior, devices equipped with facial recognition technology are installed. The scanner identifies the person when boarding, after which the money for the trip is automatically debited from the bank card linked to the passenger's personal account in the transport application.

In 2021, the introduction of payment based on facial biometrics also began in the Seoul metro. To get access to the service, passengers need to upload a selfie to the service's mobile application and link a bank card to their account. The face recognition equipment installed in the turnstile area is able to identify users even if they are wearing medical masks.

Advantages of the technology

The most obvious advantage of paying for transport using facial biometrics is the speed of the procedure. Speeding up the passage of passengers through the turnstiles, the technology allows you to fight queues, which is especially important for large cities.

However, “payment by face” has other, less obvious advantages. For example, optimization of the staff of service personnel. Today, in most cities of the world, impressive “armies” of employees are still involved in transport. The use of biometric identification in the future will allow you to completely abandon the services of conductors and controllers. In addition, this technology is quite consistent with the concept of unmanned transport, which is now being developed by many countries.

Paying for travel based on facial biometrics is also more environmentally friendly. The use of biometric identification on transport does not require printing paper tickets or plastic cards. Finally, this technology is characterized by a high level of hygiene. The contactless principle allows you to avoid interaction not only with tokens, but also with the digital surfaces of fingerprint scanners.

Biometric identification can perform various functions in the transport sector. “Smart” video surveillance systems make public transport trips safer, and paying “on the face” helps to increase the level of comfort for passengers. Experts believe that in the coming years, transport will become one of the important growth drivers for the global biometrics market. Read more about the industry trends and prospects for its development in the RecFaces blog.

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