A whole city pass: The case of the Citizen Card in Gijón

Digital transition offers cities an opportunity to rethink the provision of public services to citizens, allowing for a stronger integration and tailor-made solutions. Gijón is one of the first cities in Europe to seize this opportunity by providing a ‘citizen card’ that allows users to access a wide range of services from public transport to libraries, public toilets or tax payment. With a population of 273.422 inhabitants, there are today almost 270.000 individual cards being used by citizens, tourists and local businesses. The Citizen Card was recently awarded as an URBACT Good Practice that could be transferred to other municipalities in Europe. The Card is not a fixed product but a constantly evolving integrated service, aiming to improve the quality of life for the city’s residents and visitors.

The Gijón Citizen Card was officially launched in 2002 after a few years pilot phase, to give citizens access to the city’s services and public facilities, such as shared transport, cultural activities and digital services. With an overall cost of 250.000 euros, the Card has been evolving since its start in order to integrate as many services as possible, currently public ones. The Citizen Card has an average of 32.000 uses/day and around 1.000.000 uses/month, showing the impressive uptake it had amongst citizens, because of its practical added value.

The first services we connected to this card were the libraries and the swimming pools. Then came public transportation, and step by step we added more services. The Citizen Card currently covers 20 services, but the most used one is definitely public transportation, especially because it counts every trip as a single use. Imagine the average card owner using the Citizen Card at least four times a day for public transportation: numbers become quickly very big.

Laura González
Head of Services and Communication for the Citizen Card, City of Gijón

In fact, the card offers a number of services:

Talking about the interconnection between services, an interesting example of this is libraries: you can borrow books and use computers from both municipal and regional ones because their databases are interconnected. Public toilets are also free to use with the Citizen Card, and without it the service would cost 1€, for example. Bike rentals are also free, as well as entrance to municipal museums, whereas private museums foundations and other attractions grant discounts to all card holders. This is a great advantage for tourists. When it comes to sports, the Citizen Card grants free access to most sports facilities – and of course you can use it to pay for other facilities that are not included as a free service. Sport trainings and cultural courses can also be paid with this card, and if you need a printout of any official paperwork regarding your residence and whatnot, you can either access it via our offices, our terminals or even via our hotline.

Laura González

The card offers the possibility of catering through the same device for different user groups, tailoring the service to their needs. Currently, there are 269,669 cards held by people and 843 by enterprises. Gijón has a population of 273.422 but anyone carrying out any activity in the city is welcome to have a Citizen Card. For example, schools have Citizen Cards to take part in the programming of cultural and sport activities. Because the cards are associated to an individual, whether person or legal form, it is possible to define prices, discounts and credits. If on the one hand it aims at promoting sports and public transportation, it also is an instrument to reduce social exclusion. In the case of public transportation, the price of the services is adaptable to the socio-economic situation of each citizen. This means that the elderly and people on a low income receive a discount, whilst children and unemployed travel for free. Because all the cards look the same, there is no risk of stigmatisation based on the socio-economic background of the users.

The implementation of the Citizen Card went through a series of phases to reach where it’s got to today and it is  in constant development. Between 2002 and 2004 there was launching phase, in which the first services were integrated, these being payments, public transport, access and payment of parking, sport facilities and libraries. Following this, up to 2008 the aim was to add new services and involve a wider number of users, which was achieved by adding the net of citizens’ automatic terminals, access to public toilets, bike sharing and vehicles in restricted traffic areas. From then on the focus has been especially to incorporate public policies addressing  social inclusion, by integrating free urban transport for children under 13 years old, the Social Bonus to access to sport and cultural activities, access to museums and the Art and Industrial Creation Center, to telephone services, to car sharing, wifi and ultimately opening up the card to be taken also by enterprises. Because the card is embedded within the existing infrastructure of the City, it was treated as if it were a new service. This entailed training civil servants to understand how it works and to be able to then further train citizens in its use.

Today the city is moving  towards interoperability, integration of services and use of electronic tools, and the Citizen Card offers a flexible and efficient solution to fulfil these challenges. The main objectives of the Citizen Card were to offer quality services by creating one card for all municipal services, improving them, developing new ones and integrating the different applications, because earlier there had been different methods and cards. On the basis of the required features and it being a contact-less card, Mifare technology was selected. At the time the technology was rather experimental and the municipality took on a great risk in developing the service. For this reason, at first the option of collaborating with a bank in developing such a card was explored, but eventually the Citizen Card was developed solely by the city administration, today the sole proprietor of the service. Being the sole owner, the municipality can also better protect the private data and because each card is directly connected to each single user, wide range of data is generated and can be used by the city to better understand needs and patterns.

The Citizen Card is personal and not transferable: it contains a personal picture, personal data and it can also be used as an ID for some services. It has a personal identification number that can be used for requesting official documents from the Municipality, and that same number can be used for paying for public services.

Laura González

The generated data creates a series of different formats that can be cross-referenced with other sources, such as census and taxation. As much of this data can also be very sensitive, much attention is paid to the data protection and the separation with open data. Datasets have been made available for public use and have been used predominantly by the science and technology park that works in close collaboration with the University of Gijón, which used the Citizen Card open data for the creation of a number of apps.

One big future challenges for the City of Gijón is to go one step forward and analyse the data generated by the Citizen Card in more detail to improve the services provided and related policies. Additional steps that the City would like to take are also to open up the provision of services offered by the private sector, for instance exploring how taxis or local retail shops might operate a Loyalty Card system.

So, the future challenges for the Citizen Card relate both to how it can contribute to local economic growth and to the real integration of services to inhabitants.

Takeaways for other cities

  1. A citizens card makes it possible to integrate public services to meet real needs and a participatory approach is a key part of the process.   
  2. Start by integrating existing public services: integration is going to be a long term process, for which it is important to start from the services that the city is already offering and then to expand to semi-public or private ones.
  3. Improve capacities: the delivery of new services requires new skills and competences, the more civil servants are prepared, the more they will be able to deliver and to support citizens.
  4. Own the infrastructure and data: proprietor platforms and services give the city full control over decisions, updates and especially data.
  5. Open the data: by owning the data, the municipality has the possibility of opening it up to citizens and businesses so as to improve services and contribute to the local economy.