Payments tech has mass transit appeal

Getting multiple travel companies onboard with a unified IT enabled payments solution paves the way for wider deployment of ticketless technology.
5 August 2022

Happy days: ticketless payments technology that works across multiple operators, including different modes of transport, is something for passengers to celebrate. Image credit: Shutterstock.

If you’ve taken a bus ride recently, you’d have noticed a payments revolution taking place benefiting both customers and operators. Having to find the exact change for the fare used to be a pain for passengers and failing to do so was a major bugbear for drivers. But those days are gone thanks to cashless payments tech that harnesses the ‘tap and pay’ functionality of modern bank cards based on RFID technology. And the improvements don’t stop there.

Newer still is ‘tap and cap’ – enabled by mass transit operators; giving passengers the confidence that they’ll always be charged the best value fare based on their combination of journeys. And – in a first for the UK – ‘tap on, tap off’ contactless ticketing has been rolled out across multiple operators, allowing customers to combine trips on different buses, run by different firms. While it may sound like a small win, it was certainly something to celebrate and gathered a round of applause in Leicester, where the scheme had its UK debut in April 2022. Getting multiple travel companies onboard with a unified payments solution is significant.

Joined up thinking

Smart ticketing experts Ticketer and payments infrastructure specialists Littlepay were the brains behind the multi-operator roll out, which has the potential to speed up boarding times and, by doing so, cut journey times too. Ticketer supplied the on-vehicle hardware, with Littlepay providing the back office systems for aggregating card taps and applying the various fare caps set by the different bus operators.

Proof of concepts such as the multi-operator system delivered in the UK help to showcase the difference that digital payments technology can make, and serve as a template that can be applied elsewhere. Earlier this year, Littlepay announced that it would be working with California’s transit agencies to modernize fare payments. And other contract wins for the firm, which has its main offices in London, UK, and Melbourne, Australia, include working with Costa Rica’s National Electronic Payment System for Public Transportation (SINPE-TP).

An ideal puzzle for IT systems to solve

Mass transit systems are integral to keeping cities moving, and represent an ideal puzzle for IT services to solve. Digital solutions help passengers by delivering live timetabling and route-planning services, and make it easier to change from one mode of transport to another. Ticketer has worked with operators on a QR code based scheme dubbed ‘PlusBus’ that allows rail tickets to be validated on bus services. And the firm has other ideas up its sleeve too.

Recently, Ticketer teamed up with Swiss-based company Palisis to roll out a digital ticketing platform across online travel marketplaces, including big names such as, Expedia, and Tripadvisor. The system lets bus and coach operators choose which tickets they’d like to make available online, and a QR code is issued upon purchase.

The use of digital payment systems has surged in recent years, and research suggests that cashless transactions could be almost universal in Nordic countries by next year and soon after (2025) in the UK, and elsewhere. Public transport is a growth area for smart payment services, and information technology led companies are expanding their portfolios to build on opportunities in the market.

Combining talents

In June 2022, identification services provider Paragon ID acquired UrbanThings – a UK tech firm with expertise in mobility as a service hubs, mobile ticketing, real-time journey information, vehicle tracking, and rich passenger analytics – as the French company looks to grow its market share in North America and other regions. Paragon’s products include geo-fencing and asset tracking technology – for example, to reduce equipment theft and pinpoint the location of tools and materials.

Big names in the payments space have solutions in play such as Visa-owned Cybersource, which includes mass transit transactions options within its card processing API’s. According to the firm, its solution suits single- and multi-modal journeys and allows operators to configure fixed fares; distance- and time-based fares; multi-modal fares; and features like fare capping, and concessions, which play into back office functionality provided by Littlepay.

Moving into the digital realm unlocks a wealth of insights on how travelers are using mass transit systems, popular routes, and so much more. Identifying key trends will help operators to improve their services and focus their efforts on future projects. Researchers might want to start their journey in Seoul, Korea, which was the first city in the world to roll out contactless payments – and was first seen, fittingly, in transport ticketing.

Mastercard notes – in a recent thought piece on supporting growth in public transport – that smartphone apps such as the android-powered service used by shuttle bus operators at Los Angeles International Airport (to give just one of many examples) can help companies side-step expensive digital infrastructure. Rather than pay for special point-of-sale hardware, operators can make use of smartphones that they already have in their inventory to accept contactless payments.

Tap-to-pay transport solutions are being adopted the world over. So much so that travelers now expect to be able to purchase tickets digitally and many would be bemused if they had to return to the past and find the correct change for their ticket.