27 Jul 2021

Tap-to-ride transit payments arrive on the California coast

Contactless fare payments are making public transit easier and simpler to use

Transit payment processor Littlepay, and ticketing technology specialist Kuba have teamed up to facilitate two contactless fare payment demonstrations in Santa Barbara, California, which launched yesterday. For the first time in the coastal county, public transit riders will have the option to ‘tap-to-ride’, paying for trips by tapping an on-board payment reader with their contactless debit, credit, prepaid card or mobile wallet.

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Kuba’s off-the-shelf system provides cEMV card validation and enables secure contactless payments to be processed during the demos, with Littlepay providing transit payment processing—including tap aggregation, fare capping, deny list management and automatic debt recovery. Cybersource, a Visa solution, provides a connection to Elavon U.S. for acquiring services.

Amin Shayan, CEO at Littlepay, says, “The system we’ve created is a great example of our modular approach to contactless fare payment, working with a range of pre-integrated ‘Littlepay Ready’ partners to deliver an end-to-end solution—from point of tap to settlement of funds.”

Michael Hart, CRO at Kuba, says, “We're thrilled to team up with Littlepay to support the delivery of contactless travel in California with this rapid-to-deploy system. We’re eager to continue our expansion in the region and to improve the passenger experience by removing the barrier of traditional fare payment, through easy-to-use contactless options across the United States.”

This new transit payment experience is being offered initially on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments’ (SBCAG) long-distance commuter bus service, Clean Air Express, and two adjoining bus routes (12X and 24X) operated by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (SBMTD). As the demos progress, SBMTD hopes to offer a tap-to-ride service on more lines.

State-wide goals for seamless travel

The California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are supporting the demos through their California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP) initiative. Cal-ITP aims to make it easier to use public transportation by improving trip planning and simplifying payments across transit modes and services in the state. Easy-to-use contactless payment options are vital to reaching these goals. Cal-ITP has already successfully launched contactless payment demos on buses operated by Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) and on some light rail trains in downtown Sacramento, operated by Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT).

Simple payment experience

For riders who already use contactless cards or mobile wallets for other purchases, the convenience of paying for transit journeys in the same simple way will be appealing. Instead of buying or loading a transit card or handling cash, they can reach for the payment method that they already carry everywhere. Once they tap, a green checkmark on the payment reader indicates a successful transaction, and they can board vehicles quickly with minimal driver interaction.

Motivating greener travel

Clean Air Express is a commuter bus service launched in the 1990s to reduce air pollution caused by commuters in single-occupancy cars. Managed by SBCAG, it serves residents of Lompoc, Santa Maria, Buellton, Solvang, and adjacent areas who use the buses daily to get to work in Goleta and Santa Barbara. Riders are used to the pricing system—with one-way fares costing $7, ten rides discounted to $50, and a monthly pass for $150 offering unlimited rides. Configuring fare caps in Littlepay’s back office, SBCAG will be able to replicate this fare model for the tap-to-ride system—plus offer a $1 one-way fare discount to riders who pay via contactless debit/credit card or mobile wallet. Riders who tap-to-ride will pay $6 for each one-way journey until a $10 daily cap or a $150 30-day cap is triggered—after which no further payment will be charged within the capping period.

“Older fare collection systems create unnecessary barriers for people to ride and choose public transit,” said Marjie Kirn, executive director of SBCAG, which operates the Clean Air Express. “With the new contactless payment system, customers can now pay their fare in the same way they can buy a coffee or groceries by simply tapping a credit or debit card, or using a mobile wallet on a smartphone or watch, with no registration or account set up needed.”

Riders on SBMTD line 12X (Goleta Express) and 24X (UCSB Express) using tap-to-ride will similarly pay a simple $1.75 flat fare for single journeys, with an automatic daily fare cap of $6. A 30-day pass is also available, with a cap of $52. As the contactless rollout continues, SBMTD hopes to create further fare models that may include discounted fares for eligible groups, such as older adults, university staff, and students.

“We are excited to introduce this convenient payment option for our riders,” said Jerry Estrada, general manager of Santa Barbara MTD. “We’re piloting this technology on ten of our buses, serving Lines 12x and 24x. This means you’ll be able to get to UC Santa Barbara, Downtown Santa Barbara, Camino Real Marketplace, and Old Town Goleta with a simple tap of a card or device.”

California’s contactless movement continues

Amin Shayan says, “Following on from successful deployments in Monterey and Sacramento, we’re pleased to see two more contactless demos go live in California, with Littlepay playing a central role. The system being used here in Santa Barbara is a great example of the modular approach to contactless fare payment we champion, which is making this payment technology increasingly accessible for transit agencies of all sizes.”


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