July 09, 2019

Tech In Transit: The Future of Contactless Payment

Using a mobile device to pay transit fares.
Source: www.businessinsider.com

Tech In Transit is a series that focuses on breakthrough innovations and technological advancements in the transportation and transit industries. We hope to keep you updated on these matters for the purpose of being aware of future changes that could affect the ways you utilize public transportation.

If you’ve ever taken public transit then you may be familiar with the following scenarios: you are waiting anxiously in a long line to purchase a ticket, your train is arriving or you are holding up the line boarding the bus while fumbling with change. When the Clipper card was introduced in 2010 as a form of contactless payment, the transit payment situation in the Bay Area was vastly improved and some of these scenarios could be avoided, however the aging system has not exactly kept up with modern times. Adding value to the card online is not available instantly which can be problematic when one is not in the vicinity of a Walgreens or BART station to add value in person, in which case they can still find themselves waiting in long lines. However, when considering that the current system was designed in the late 1990s, the fact that the design is outdated and rather inconvenient in 2019 is hardly surprising.

The next logical step from contactless cards is to allow payment via wearable payment devices such as smart watches or wristbands or a mobile app that could allow riders to seamlessly and efficiently pay fares. In fact some European and Asian cities have already taken that step, for example in London riders can use a wristband or even a waterproof ring to pay fares in addition to mobile devices or smart watches that most people already have. 

The US is finally catching up as earlier this year Portland became the first US city to integrate Apple Pay into their transit payment system such that riders can either add the area’s equivalent of the Clipper card to their Apple Wallet or pay directly from any bank card in their digital wallets, with Chicago and New York to follow suit later in the year. As of May, Fitbit users can use their Fitbit Pay enabled devices including smart watches and trackers to pay transit fares in seven major cities.

For being the tech capital of the world, the Bay Area surprisingly has fallen behind the rest of the world but progress is being made. In 2014 MTC began developing Clipper 2.0 which will be introduced in 2020 and fully implemented by 2021 and was designed with public feedback in mind. The new system will support more modern functionality such as allowing users to instantly add funds online, a new mobile app that will allow users to create and manage individual and family Clipper accounts, and payment via a mobile device instead of a card. In the meantime, however, be sure to check our new fare table.

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