There is a quite extended metro system in Barcelona, so I was expecting to see people swipe their contactless card to check-in/out. I was surprised to discover that you still need to buy paper tickets, with all the inconveniencies that it supposes (cost, visual pollution, long queues, mechanical problems of readers, etc.). I wonder what keeps them from switching to contactless, really. The metro system is 75 years old, so they are probably finishing the amortization cycle for machine-readable paper tickets. I however found a quite interesting contactless scheme in Barcelona: Bicing!
The idea of re-introducing bikes in European cities is making its way and outdoor advertising companies like JC Decaux (in Paris) or Clear Channel (in Barcelona) are surfing the wave, proposing instant bike rental services in exchange of advertising in the city (their usual business model). This was already the case in France in the city of Lyon and Toulouse, then, that I know of, came Barcelona and Paris (Velib). It is popular, it works and it uses a contactless card to check the bike out and check it back in when you’re done. To lend a bike one simply swipes the contactless RFID-card at a service station to be personally identified by the system, which then unlocks a bike from the support frame.
The service was launched in Barcelona in March 2007 and there are already 3,000 bikes available at 200 service points. The website is in Catalan and Spanish which means that it is not meant for tourists, but for the citizens of Barcelona. It is quite well done, with an always updated map of available bikes. The problem is that you do not always carry a portable PC with 3G access with you to check where you can get a bike…
This is yet one more example of the reason why NFC is bound for success. Imagine putting the bicing contactless cardlet on the secure element of your mobile. Just tap your mobile on the reader to identify yourself and free the bike. The best part comes with the online services: check availability map from your mobile, know the closest service station from your destination, meet with friends at a service station, etc. There are endless applications to imagine linked to Bicing on mobile. Can’t wait until Telefonica puts NFC phones on the market. Barcelona is definitely a city for Toro.