Monday, May 16, 2016

Cash-free buses, Apple Pay, and the future of Compass Card

Last week, Apple Pay started to be rolled out in a meaningful way in Canada. This service allows your iPhone to be loaded with your Interac and credit cards, and be used in place of the cards. Android Pay is a similar to Apple Pay, but isn’t launched in Canada yet.

This got me thinking, wouldn’t it be convenient to be able to use my smart phone to pay for transit. I searched for Apple Pay and transit online; Transport for London allows you to pay for transit with your debit card, credit card, Oyster Card, and Apple Pay on all modes of transit (including buses.) Oyster Card is the equivalent of the Compass Card.

In fact, the rollout of this open payment system has been so successful that Transport for London no longer accepts cash on the bus!

Closer to home in Chicago, the Ventra system also allows people who use transit in that region to pay the same ways as you can in the UK. Want to use Apple Pay or Android Pay on the CTA? No problem.

Fare gates in the London Underground. Source: Macworld UK.

Do these fare gates look familiar? They should because they are made by the same company that made the TransLink fare gates. In fact, the technology used in London, Chicago, and here in Metro Vancouver was made by the same company. Compass Card readers throughout the TransLink system have the ability to accept contactless payment cards and Apple Pay.

Compass Card reader on TransLink bus with contactless payment symbol. Select image to enlarge.

Less than 5% of TransLink customers use cash on the bus. Handling cash is expensive for TransLink. Having exact change, or having to run out to get a Compass Card, is inconvenient for people who only use transit occasionally.

Is open payment in the future for TransLink? I certainly hope so. It would make using transit in our region more convenient, and further reduce access barriers.

On a side note, Transport for London also has daily caps for people that use Stored Value. This is something that TransLink should consider as matter of equity. You should never have to pay more than the cost of a day pass (West Coast Express excluded.)

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