Integrated Payments for Transit + Parking

The user-journey for taking transit should be painless and easy.

If you’ve ever taken a bus or trolley in San Diego, the payments experience was probably unpleasant. If you don’t have cash, you probably had to visit a select stop to procure something called a Compass Card and load money onto that card. But if you started at a bus stop without that machine, you didn’t have the option to even get a Compass Card, making cash the only option. Prior to the price hike, it was $2.25 and you had to be carrying a quarter in your pocket.

This may not seem like a big deal, but poor user-experience leads to lower adoption rates. If I have to be a transit expert to use transit, I’m probably not going to use transit.

It’s gotta get a lot easier, and we have to modernize how we pay for transit.

According to SmartCitiesDive, Portland, Oregon now has integrated transit payments with Apple Pay.

Riders can now hop on immediately and tap their iPhones and Apple Watches when boarding transit, and they can reload cars and pay for rides through the Wallet app.

“Portland is the first U.S. city to roll out a contactless payment system integrated with Apple Pay. Transit agencies in Chicago and New York are also gearing up for similar partnerships with Apple this year.”

San Diego needs that.

Here’s what’s currently in the works from Federal Highway Administration: San Diego Regional Fare System Modernization — Volume 1: Technical Application.

We’re currently looking at creating a comprehensive payments system that supports mobile payments, specifically NFC payments (Apple Pay and Samsung Pay). You can read about it here.

I personally think we should include a mobile payment system based on QR codes in addition to NFC. There’s pros and cons to both, but a QR doesn’t require hard on the bus. A QR code can be on a piece of paper next to the bus driver, and the driver just has to visually confirm a passenger paid.

There are also schools of thought that think we should make all transit free as a public good, bypassing the entire bureaucracy of enforcement and expensive payments systems and personnel. Are there other ways for transit to monetize? What if we rented out real estate next to transit stations to generate revenue? What if we allowed Marvel and DC to decorate our busses with superheroes and villains year-round? It’s important that we embrace new ideas for funding transit in the 21st century.

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