No cash? No problem for transit riders in Athens

Wed, 2015-01-21 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

The primary goal of a transit system has been to get a rider from point A to point B. Collecting fares has typically been an afterthought, which is why that process is usually set up for the transit system’s convenience – not the rider’s.

A partnership involving Council Lead Partner MasterCard, however, hopes to change that. MasterCard is partnering with Masabi to completely eliminate the need for cash – or even advance planning – when using transit.

Masabi is known for its comprehensive mobile ticketing platform already in use by 22 transit agencies worldwide. The partnership with MasterCard will make it even easier for transit customers to pay. Not only are the days of fumbling around for cash over, riders may not even have to pull out their credit cards.

A transit overhaul in Athens
The first city to benefit from the partnership is Athens, Greece, which has a busy transit system used by 1 million people each day, but does not have a user-friendly reputation. A travel website article that provides step-by-step instructions for using the buses there is longer than most blog posts.

While the travel article points out a number of challenges, the issue of payment is one of the biggest. Sometimes you can buy tickets at a kiosk, other times you have to buy from a driver. You have to pay in cash. You have to have exact change, so it’s wise to have a variety of coins with you at all times. And when you buy a ticket, you can’t forget to have it validated or you’re looking at a hefty fine.

The MasterCard/Masabi partnership allows riders to buy their tickets with a quick tap on their smartphone. The solution incorporates MasterCard’s MasterPass, which allows people to store digital wallets securely on their mobile devices. Credit card and other payment information can be stored in the digital wallet, allowing people to pay without needing to swipe or manually enter their credit card information.

Reducing lines through convenience
There is no doubt that contactless cards are fast. A transaction can technically be completed in as little as 300 milliseconds. But they have their limits.

With rare exception, the contactless cards are tied to one particular transit system. Creating a regional card can be challenging since it often means several agencies must agree on a common system. With the MasterCard/Masabi partnership, the smartphone is the common platform.

The rechargeable contactless cards used by many transit systems also create two lines: one to get on the bus, subway or train and another at a kiosk to pay for their pass or put more funds on the card. Travelers who use the new Athens payment system can skip the latter; their smartphone is the kiosk.

So far, the partners have only announced their joint work in Athens. On its own, Masabi serves the United Kingdom’s National Rail, and the transit systems in Boston and San Diego, among others.

Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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