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RFID Enables Hands-Free Transit Entrance for Vancouver Disabled

February 04th, 2018 Features - Case Studies - Transportation
By Claire Swedberg
Hyperlight Systems designed the solution for the TransLink SkyTrain to leverage UHF RFD tag reads that would mimic the tapping of a fare card against an automated access gate.

Metro Vancouver transportation network TransLink has launched a hands-free access system for those with mobility issues at 23 Greater Vancouver area SkyTrain transit stations. The system employs radio frequency identification technology to prompt gates to open for those carrying UHF RFID-enabled badges so that they don't need to use their hands. The installation represents 40 percent of all the stations, the agency reports, and is slated to be taken live in all SkyTrain and SeaBus stations by the end of this year.

The hands-free solution, known as the Universal Fare Gate Access Program, represents the world's first transit authority system that offers hands-free automated access to disabled passengers, according to Erin Windross, TransLink's planner for access transit planning. The RFID technology, which consists of UHF access-control cards and readers above fare gates, is provided by British Columbia RFID and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions company Hyperlight Systems.

TransLink has launched a hands-free access system for those with mobility issues at 23 Greater Vancouver area SkyTrain transit stations.

TransLink's Erin Windross
SkyTrain, Vancouver's metropolitan rail system, comprises approximately 50 miles of track and 53 stations. It opened in 1985 as the world's first fully automated, unmanned rail system; serves an average of 470,000 boardings daily; and had traditionally used a paper-based ticketing solution, with tickets confirmed at stations through the honor system.

In 2016, TransLink replaced the old ticketing process. Its new Compass Card fare gate system features passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags built into reloadable cards that commuters can tap against a gate to pay their fares and access stations. "The only requirement" on the part of commuters, Windross says, "was that you had to tap your card at the gate, which works well for the vast majority of passengers." However, he notes, it doesn't work for everyone.

The new access-control gates introduced a problem: some passengers with physical disabilities might not be able to manually tap a card against a reader. To ensure access to those unable to physically tap a Compass Card, the authority offered a station-assistance program in the interim, while it explored potential solutions to enable unfettered access to the rail system. This required considerable effort on the part of passengers and transit employees, however. A passenger had to call the authority to indicate which station he or she needed to access, and the authority would assign a staff member to meet that individual and help him or her through the gate.



That proved challenging on several levels, since the authority does not automatically have workers onsite at each station; a staff member may need to ride the transit system to reach a particular station in order to meet a passenger in need. TransLink boasts of being one of the most fully accessible transit systems in the world, Windross says. "For us, accessibility is an important priority," he states, so it sought a better solution. The agency began looking for a technology-based solution in early 2017, says Nadia Krys, TransLink's senior project manager for engineering project delivery.

While TransLink was exploring solutions for hands-free access with the existing Compass fare gates, Hyperlight Systems learned of the challenge from a local news report and offered to develop a solution, recalls Ashish Sachdeva, Hyperlight's founder and director. He describes his company as a wireless communication and IoT company "with a passion for smart-city solutions." The company was already building solutions using RFID, Sachdeva explains, and saw a potential solution for TransLink with UHF RFID. He adds that TransLink had initially considered installing a separate entrance with RFID readers for those unable to tap a Compass Card.

The Universal Fare Gate Access Program represents the world's first transit authority system that offers hands-free automated access to disabled passengers.

TransLink's Nadia Krys
Hyperlight and TransLink instead began working to leverage the existing disabled-access gates. The companies conducted a proof-of-concept to prove they could transmit a message to the gates in order to open them. "We understood that we needed to solve this problem without new construction," Sachdeva says. "We wanted to build a solution that used the existing fare gate, with integrated software, so that we could use RFID to mimic the tap."

Hyperlight and the transit authority began testing a prototype of the technology in June 2017. The partners tested it at three stations last summer, working with a focus group of users who had mobility issues preventing them from tapping a Compass card. One consultant who helped with the pilot, and who is now employed by Hyperlight as its user-experience specialist, was Brad Zdanivsky, a software specialist and rock climber who is also a quadriplegic.

Zdanivsky assisted the team in identifying the best ways in which passengers could carry the RFID cards to ensure strong reads. The RFID system included a Feig Electronic RFID reader and two antennas at each gate, facing in two directions so that the gate could be used bi-directionally (as either an entrance or exit) if necessary. Each gate is marked with an RFID logo.

The RFID system was designed to be installed quickly, Sachdeva recalls, with one or more gates deployed at 23 stations within just four months. "We feel the innovation was not only in the solution's design, but in the standardized implementation itself," he states. The company, in partnership with TransLink, built the system with standard brackets for mounting, for instance, so that installers could quickly have the technology in place.



With the solution implemented, passengers with disabilities must first acquire an RFID card. To do so, a passenger must fill out an application regarding his or her disability, and set up a meeting with the agency to ensure that the solution will work in his or her case. The individual will then receive the UHF RFID long-range Compass Card. Users are trained in the proper use of the cardfor instance, learning to wear it on a lanyard or carry it in such a way that the antenna can easily interrogate it. Placing the card in a back pocket, for example, would make it difficult to read.

Upon arriving at the station, a passenger can simply approach the gate. The antenna above the gate captures the unique ID number encoded on that individual's card at a range of 2 or 3 meters (6.6 to 9.8 feet), and software built into the gate system confirms the ID and prompts the gate to open. For users, Krys says, the system is largely invisible. "They would just see two antennastwo little white squares, above the gate," she states.

The system employs radio frequency identification technology to prompt gates to open for those carrying UHF RFID-enabled badges so that they don't need to use their hands.

Hyperlight's Ashish Sachdeva
As part of the solution, TransLink's technology division developed a messaging platform to accept the RFID message and send it to the fare gates. They also are developing the software required to use RFID to identify the price for each passenger journey and charge customers the same fares that they would be charged using the Compass Card system.

The solution cost the transit authority $9 million, which is being funded in part through the federal government's $740 million Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. "This is all about empowering individuals and making sure we make our system as accessible as possible," said Kevin Desmond, TransLink's CEO, at a press conference held on Jan. 23 at a Vancouver SkyTrain station.

Given its scalability, Sachdeva says, the system could easily be installed on accessibility barriers or gates in other cities throughout North America. "We're excited to start working with other cities," he states.