Next Stop, Contactless (October 2013)
Transit payments via tap heating up in Las Vegas with new pilot
By Adam Perrotta, Assistant Editor
Amid big transit rollouts in Chicago and Salt Lake City, Las Vegas is getting in on the action with a new pilot program enabling transit riders to pay bus fares with a tap. Dubbed TransitTap, the program is a partnership between the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), Samsung SDS and MasterCard.
Since Sept. 9 and running through Dec. 30, riders on the RTC’s Centennial Express bus route can pay fares by tapping a MasterCard PayPass contactless payment card or an NFC-enabled smartphone onto the Samsung TransitTap readers that have been installed on the buses. Riders can enroll on TransitTap’s Website and subsequently access and manage their personal transit accounts online.
Along with any PayPass credit or debit card, the system also accepts two PayPass-enabled prepaid cards from Benefit Resource Inc. (BRI), an administrator of tax-free employee benefit accounts that operates a prepaid card platform for health care and transit payments. BRI’s open-loop BRilliant Card and Beniversal Prepaid MasterCard (both issued by The Bancorp) are fully PayPass-compatible, making them well-suited for commuting workers to use with TransitTap, the company says.
“There has always been a disconnect between the [benefit] payment and use of transit,” Anthony DiBarnaba, president, BRI, tells Paybefore, noting that many transit benefit platforms rely on vouchers or reimbursement-based models. The integration of a simple tap-to-pay system “provides a more streamlined experience,” he says. Benefits recipients don’t have to wait for reimbursement from their employers. The cards come loaded with their transit allowance. “Riders are no longer standing in line at a transit vending machine while the bus pulls away; they’re on the bus.”
BRI’s processing partner for both prepaid cards is Jacksonville, Fla.-based prepaid processor FIS. TransitTap represents the first dip of FIS’s toe into the waters of mass transit payments—but the company is confident that its expertise in other payment processing areas can be leveraged for the unique demands of transit payments, says Alpesh Shah, director, strategy, FIS. “Capabilities like a multi-purse feature become increasingly important as our partners look for ways to use one seamless, customer-facing product that can be used in multiple ways,” Shah tells Paybefore. For example, a cardholder could set aside one purse on the card for transit payments and another for health spending or general purchases.
And while NFC technology remains far from ubiquitous, the biggest hurdle to consumer adoption of contactless transit payment isn’t technological; it’s changing consumer habits and driving awareness, according to BRI. “You have to go beyond basic promotion and must educate the public on how this new technology works and what the advantages of it are,” says BRI’s DiBarnaba. “With anything new, you must also address fear. Will it work? Will there be delays? No one wants to be that person on the bus holding up the line.”
To help drive awareness of TransitTap, the pilot was launched in conjunction with the opening of a new RTC transit center near the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The platform also is likely to get a boost from MasterCard’s name brand and experience in contactless transit payments. The card network has been involved in several high-profile public transport projects that incorporate PayPass for fare payments, including the Chicago Transit Authority’s Ventra initiative.
After its test run concludes, the TransitTap program will be evaluated for widespread release in Las Vegas and potentially other metro transit systems across the U.S., according to BRI.