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Contactless Transit Fare Systems Are in High Demand

The novel coronavirus has prompted some transit agencies to reimagine how they accept fares. Efforts to keep transit staff and riders safe, while serving the “unbanked,” are giving new payment solutions a foothold.

by / July 31, 2020
A CapMetro bus before embarking on another day on the streets of Austin. CapMetro plans to upgrade ticketing platforms with Bytemark Bridge to support contactless transactions, and clearing the way for better integration among mobility providers. Flickr/Van Sutherland

Transit agencies are rapidly moving forward with technological advances like contactless ticketing, efforts indicative of a larger push to mitigate the novel coronavirus.

Transit systems in Austin, Texas, and Orange County, Calif., recently announced upgrades to their fare-collection systems involving mobile-ticketing, account-based fare programs and contactless payment.

“The push for agencies to move to truly contactless, the market was shifting that way, but the acceleration of the market right now has never been as high as it is,” said Eric Reese, CEO of Bytemark, a transit technology firm, leading mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) deployments at the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and Capital Metro in Austin.

Austin plans to introduce upgrades later this year to allow for “tap and go” payments, as well as features to allow riders to load their accounts in cash at retail locations, giving “unbanked” riders an entry into the contactless fare system. The updated fare operations system is known as Bytemark Bridge, which includes platforms for trip-planning, fare payment, parking management and other features.

“It has always been our goal to offer contactless solutions to decrease dwell time and improve trip on-time performance, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for less interaction between customers, equipment and bus operators took on a much higher priority,” said CapMetro spokesperson Jenna Maxfield.

The technology is already in use at CapMetro for certain functions. However, the recent announcement signals an expansion, with some of the new features available in the next few months, and the retail component in early 2021, said Reese.

Bytemark is also partnering with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) to replace the agency’s mobile-ticketing system.

The payment-as-a-service (PaaS) and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) initiatives in Austin and Orange County are part of a general trend among transit agencies to integrate account management and fare payment into mobile devices.

Further integrating fare payment across different mobility providers and platforms, such as shared bikes, scooters or cars, has been the endgame for any number of transit organizations. That goal is well within reach, say transit watchers.

“The technology is there. There’s no question about that,” Nir Erez, founder and CEO of Moovit, an Israeli mobility-as-a-service provider and trip-planning app, said during the CoMotion Miami virtual conference in early July. 

Where the process has slowed, said Erez, is often in the public regulatory space, but cities like New York and Los Angeles have been showing advancements.

CapMetro will also add the city’s bike-share program to its system, integrating MetroBike — with its fleet of some 700 bikes — into its transit system this fall, said Maxfield.

Bytemark has been developing a fare collection system with the ability to work across mobility providers for transportation projects in cities like Columbus, Ohio.

“This is something that will be used here in Austin, for some of the bike-share and ride-share functionalities, where they’ll be able to use a single account,” said Reese.

“It’s quite an innovative, kind of next step for touching the underbanked, and providing solutions for across the entire spectrum of riders,” he added. 

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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