AVANTIX Mobile is the successor to the SPORTIS system which had been developed in the mid-1980s for British Rail. SPORTIS was the first fully computerised portable ticketing system for use by on-train staff and Revenue Protection Inspectors, and in other situations where mobile ticket-issuing facilities are required. However, by 2002, the machines themselves were up to 15 years old, with their underlying technology being several years older, and they lacked the storage capacity for the increasing variety of fares and promotions available on the post-privatisation British railway system.
AVANTIX Mobile machines were first adopted by TOCs owned at the time by the National Express Group; however, they are now in use across all National Rail-controlled TOCs with the exception of Merseyrail.
Magnetically-encoded tickets have the advantage of being able to operate the automatic ticket gates which are used at a large number of National Rail stations throughout Britain, as well as at all London Underground stations. Accordingly, paper roll stock is rarely used now, although it is still the standard form of ticket issued on the Gatwick Express: Gatwick Airport station is not gated, and the Gatwick Express platforms at London Victoria station are also open.
Paper roll tickets carry the Rail Settlement Plan form number RSP 3594: the same as on post-privatisation SPORTIS tickets, as SPORTIS used the same blank stock. Gatwick Express has frequently used dedicated stock, RSP 3594/GA, with a red colour scheme and security background (RSP 3594 is orange with a pale green background). Three types of card stock have been used: two versions with the form number RSP 3599, and one (used most often as of 2007) numbered RSP 9299. On the first version of RSP 3599, each ticket had diagonally cut-off corners, but this later changed to rounded corners as is standard on most other ticket issuing systems. Both of these types had pre-printed headings such as "Class" and "Ticket Type". With the move to "Common Stock" ticketing, where all information is printed by the machine, RSP 9299 stock with no pre-printed headings was introduced. These tickets have always had rounded corners.
The machine as a whole consists of a specialised PDA device, upon which all fare, timetable and other data is stored; a small ticket printer and its batteries; the blank ticket stock; and a ticket cradle which holds the tickets when they have been printed. The printer and ticket stock are housed within a plastic case into which the PDA slides.
Including the plastic casing, an AVANTIX Mobile machine is 262mm tall, 126mm wide and has a depth of 175mm. Total weight including batteries, a full set of ticket stock and the padded shoulder strap, is 2.03kg. Thermal printing is used, with a magnetically-encoded ticket typically taking 3½ seconds to print and a paper roll ticket taking 2½ seconds. The printer uses two lithium-ion batteries, similar to those used in many standard consumer electronics products. These are charged in standard charging trays as used in camcorders, for example.
AVB can issue tickets on magnetically encoded common ticket stock or old style paper ticket rolls as used on SPORTIS. Increasingly the SPORTIS roll stock is being phased out in favour of the magnetically encoded card stock. The thermally printed tickets emerge from the top of the printer.
There are two options for credit-card acceptance:
For passengers who do not have a Chip and Pin Credit or Debit cards, these are processed by a swipe slot in the AVANTIX casing which reads the magnetic stripe of the card and requires the buyer to sign a card receipt. This magnetic read head can also be used to swipe suitable magnetic tickets and will tell the user if the ticket has been through a ticket barrier.
The PDA works as a touch screen instrument using either stylus or finger.
The fares and timetable information on the PDA is stored on a memory card. Updates are downloaded when the PDA is in a docking station.
All fares are on AVB although advance purchase tickets can't be sold as generally these require seat reservations. Only weekly season tickets can be sold. Monthly and annual prices can be looked up by going to the season enquiry menu. All types of Railcard discounts, local council discount schemes and other concessions are loaded on to an AVB. PLUS+BUS tickets and rover tickets can also be sold along with certain ferry and bus through ticketing. AVB can handle both CRS station short codes and National Location Codes (NLCs); but if the user does not know either code, typing in the station name will bring the fares up.
Timetable information can also be accessed by using the timetable enquiry facility.
Multiple ticket issues can be done using the shopping basket facility. So if a buyer wishes to purchase numerous tickets they can all be grouped together in the shopping basket and sold as one transaction.
The user can also issue group tickets on to just one ticket rather than printing off multiple tickets.
Last 16 issues facility shows last 16 tickets issued, which is handy for repeat fare transactions.
AVB also comes loaded with a popular products function where a code is entered a screen with the most popular fares for a route will be displayed. This saves the user typing in the origin, destination and ticket type as popular products enable the user to just hit one button on one screen rather than going through 3-4 screens.
Penalty Fares can also be issued by AVB with the offenders details being captured and checked against the electoral register.
Cash, Travel Vouchers, Traders Warrants, Forces Warrants, Cheques and Credit / Debit cards are all accepted payments for AVB users. Visa Electron, Solo and International Maestro cards are not accepted on any portable equipment due to the need for online authorisation. (They are accepted at First Great Western ticket counters.)
Incident enquiry screen shows printer and PDA battery life as well as any non-issued tickets.
AVB can be secured by the user to prevent misuse by setting a code word.
The following TOCs use AVB1:
The following TOCs use AVB2: