Shaping transportation from the user's perspective

The United States likely will see a nationwide shift away from disparate, multiple-fare collection systems to seamless, uniform payment systems that give users more mobility than ever before. Learn how tools such as smart fare cards, loyalty programs and the RideScout mobility app already are putting transportation users in the driver's seat.

Mobility from the user’s perspective
Many cities already are implementing or reviving various forms of transit to meet the demands of growth and urban migration. The result is a collection of rail lines, buses and bike lanes that often operate independently of streets and freeways.
 
But a more holistic view of transit reveals a user-centered vision of enhanced mobility.
 
Multimodal transportation is based on intelligent design, and built on fare and toll collection with a seamless user experience – one customer service center, one card and one payment system accepted by multiple, interconnected transit and transportation systems.
 
Montreal’s OPUS leads the way
Montreal represents the North American gold standard when it comes to mobility, and it starts with fare collection. Sociéte´ de transport de Montréal sells OPUS, a single smart card honored by every transit system throughout greater Montreal.
 
Importantly, the OPUS® “Merci” program uses data that participating transit authorities gather from fare collection to reward frequent riders’ loyalty in meaningful ways, such as with discounts at restaurants and events. That encourages ridership, and provides passengers with a richer experience. It’s also important to STM, which is targeting 540 million trips by 2020. Notably, 95 percent of those trips will be powered by electricity, which is helping the city achieve or exceed greenhouse gas reduction targets.
 
San Francisco’s Clipper aims for seamless integration
San Francisco poses a host of transportation challenges due to the presence of multiple governments and commercial districts, and a richly textured socioeconomic canvas. Enter Clipper®, a renewable, stored-value transit card designed to encourage intermodal travel and ridership.
 
Clipper stores riders’ fare-payment information, including passes, discounts, cash value and applicable transfer rules. It is connected to a number of regional agencies, including Bay Area Rapid Transit, Caltrain and the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, as well as buses, trains, cable cars, historic streetcars and the ferry.
 
Clipper’s next iteration likely will offer seamless integration with parking operations, toll roads, express-lane networks, rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, and – of particular interest – potential integration with FasTrak®, the Bay Area’s electronic toll system. FasTrak’s extensive highway toll networks potentially pave the way for Clipper patrons to use their cards on toll roads in Orange County and other state locales.
 
The vision of Clipper 2.0 is to capitalize on the cost-effectiveness of combining all services: one account for a toll tag, proximity card or key fob, and a series of payment interfaces available everywhere users need them to be.
 
One statewide office for tolls and transit
Some experts say toll agencies should take a page from the telecom industry, which created roaming for mobile phones, by developing a multiprotocol tag containing all U.S. frequencies and protocols.
 
Short of that – but still enticing – is the already present feasibility for an entire state to establish one back office for all toll facilities and transit systems. It would require complex interagency agreements, but the complexity could be mitigated by the ability to draw on the know-how of experts statewide. Plus, a statewide fare-collection system could attract interest from banks and credit card companies that see the business opportunities and have the experience needed to manage vast subscriber networks.
 
Prepaid debit cards double as transit passes
In fact, the promise of enhanced mobility brought on by interconnectivity already has attracted the financial services industry, which has developed a prepaid debit card that doubles as a transit pass.
 
Chicago was first to get on board with its VentraTM card, followed by Southwestern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Those agencies and others find the model attractive because it:
  • Shifts the card-issuing function and financial risk to the bank
  • Reduces the volume of cash handling
  • Provides more secure revenue and accounting systems

Debit and other varieties of smart transit cards mark a trend — passengers trading paper for plastic. They are swapping paper passes for reloadable plastic transit cards that transmit data securely via radio waves and automatically withdraw fares from passengers’ bank accounts when tapped on a card reader. Part of the integration revolution, the cards feature autoload, easy activation and balance protection.
 
Empowering better mobility and livability
The tech industry also is empowering passenger mobility with RideScoutTM, a mobile app that syncs with every available transportation option and serves up real-time intelligence. Available in about 70 U.S. cities plus Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, RideScout enables users to compare rides by time and price, and set up real-time alerts about construction zones and accidents.
 
What’s missing from the app is a single way to reserve and buy transit tickets, and pay tolls and parking fees. A solution that does it all will be empowering, and could have the power to attract more people to use more forms of transit. The results could be a more balanced transportation system that delivers people and goods on time and on budget, and more livable, sustainable communities.