How Tap-to-Ride Open Payments Improve Passenger Experience


As workplaces, malls and entertainment venues reopen and return to pre-pandemic levels, public transit plays a critical role. Transit agencies are evaluating ways to provide passengers with exceptional travel experiences via bus, train, metro or ferry, and contactless payments are proving to be a key part of transit operators’ strategies audience.

10% – Visa transactions in the United States made in one click with a contactless card1

Click here* to see a short demo on how contactless payments work


The passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act means billions of dollars in funding will go to projects that kick-start innovation. A total of $66 billion is expected to be invested in expanding transit and rail networks, $39 billion is planned for public transport and another $7.5 billion is for electric vehicle infrastructure .2 The law explicitly includes language on funding the acceptance of ticket payments through a credit card reader, including contactless technology, for reasons of security, durability and accessibility.

Explaining how the projects will get priority funding, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the agency is “working really hard to make sure ‘innovation’ isn’t just a buzzword. which loses its meaning, but a means to an end”.3

Funding will reach all communities in need. USDOT wants a process that allows any municipality, regardless of size, to apply for funding and participate in the programs.

Undersecretary Polly Trottenberg noted that the legislation will allocate funds for the replacement of nearly 2,000 subway, light rail and commuter rail cars. In addition, approximately 10,000 fossil-fuel buses will be replaced with zero-emission vehicles. 4


Passengers have made it clear that they prefer contactless payments. In Visa’s Future of Urban Mobility study, 88% of passengers surveyed expect to pay with one click on trains and buses1. The report also states that there are more than 700 transit projects in the United States that include the introduction of contactless payment methods.

It’s time to say goodbye to outdated fare collection systems, prepaid rides, confusing kiosks, paper tickets, proprietary transit-specific apps and cash management. Open-loop contactless transit solutions allow passengers – whether frequent commuters, locals or visitors – to simply use their existing contactless credit card, debit card or mobile wallet to pay for a journey in less than a second.

In addition to eliminating friction, tap-to-ride programs generally reduce costs for passengers and operators. Let’s take a closer look at this important transit modernization trend that is shaping the future of public transit nationwide.


Paying for public transport is often frustrating for commuters and tourists. Here is a quick recap of things that can hinder passenger experience and increase costs for operators:

  • Ticket offices
    Self-service kiosks are often the first point of friction in a station. Queues can build up, leading to missed rides. Confusing interfaces, too many fare choices and language barriers often lead to multiple attempts to purchase a ticket. And mechanical parts related to card readers, cash handling and ticket issuance can lead to system failures and high maintenance costs.
  • Prepaid tickets and proprietary transit apps
    While frequent commuters often purchase transit plans and load e-tickets onto a closed-loop proprietary app on their smartphone, occasional riders and visitors simply want to buy a trip and be on their way. Keeping track of balances and knowing when to top up transit cards can lead to missed rides. Also, the value of lost prepaid cards usually cannot be recovered.
  • Money handling
    Exchanging cash – via human or machine – is slow, expensive, and open to fraud and theft. In addition, it slows down the boarding time, which leads to longer transport times. In addition, an idle vehicle produces higher emissions, which is harmful to people and the environment.
  • Paper tickets
    Paper tickets can easily be lost or misplaced. Confusion over the use for entry/exit of the turnstile can lead to backups in the station. And paper is wasteful, driving additional costs to operators and creating waste near and around a facility.


By adopting open-loop contactless payment systems, transit operators can offer passengers a fast, easy and secure way to pay for their journey. Unlike proprietary closed-loop systems, open-pickup systems allow travelers to simply pay for their ride with the wave of their contactless credit or debit card, cell phone, or handheld device near a location. a contactless transit reader when entering a bus, turnstile or boarding gate. .

Quick and convenient
Passengers use their own preferred payment method to travel immediately, without having to understand the details of local fare structures or tickets, and without having to stop at a kiosk, buy a paper ticket, download an app or pre-load a card with exclusive stored value.

Cost reduction
A fast and convenient payment alternative reduces reliance on cash, increasing overall productivity. The technology behind tap-to-ride solutions allows a passenger’s daily journeys to be consolidated into a single transaction, eliminating multiple authorization fees for operators. Passenger fare caps and discounts can be automatically calculated and applied.

Safe and durable
Abandoning physical notes and cash improves security and reduces fraud. Transit operators benefit from the high security standards used in EMV payment cards. Plus, reducing or eliminating paper tickets, cash handling, and downtime at stops is good for the environment.


Implementing a modern, contactless, open-loop payment system for transit involves collaboration between multiple parties, including transit operators, transit solution software providers, and motors. pricing, payment gateways and acquirers.

To ensure success, transit operators must plan and implement an end-to-end process that incorporates budgets, technical requirements, expected timelines and dependencies, and partner engagement strategies.


In May 2021, Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) became the first California transit operator to implement open contactless fare payment technology on buses. The program is part of the California Integrated Travel Project, led by Caltrans, to improve travel planning and payments across the state. Operational readiness of the system was a coordinated effort involving Caltrans, Visa, Cybersource (a Visa solution), Littlepay, AC Soft and US Bank.

Contactless payment readers have been installed at the front of each MST bus. Passengers can pay for their journeys simply by using their own Visa or Mastercard debit, credit or prepaid card. They can also choose to use a digital wallet in their phone or portable device to enable payment. Paying with their existing card eliminates the need to queue to buy a separate transit pass, load a special app, or manage money when boarding. They just use the same card they use to buy a cup of coffee to tap and pay for their rides. Benefits of contactless payments for passengers include faster transaction times and the convenience of being able to pay fares using the bank card or smartphone they carry around.3

MST has also implemented a ‘price cap’, which ensures that a passenger will not be charged more than a certain amount per day, no matter how many times they ride – if they pay with the same contactless card or the same mobile wallet. Frequent riders who purchase unlimited weekly or monthly GoPass fares will not incur any charges for the remaining period once the pass value has been reached.


Want to learn more about how contactless tap-to-ride solutions can help optimize costs while providing a better passenger experience?

Visit our Contactless Payments for Transit resource page to access our e-book (5 reasons to opt for contactless with the ticket office), infographics, videos and other useful information.


  1. Visa “Future of Urban Mobility” Survey: June 2021 (conducted by Wakefield Research among 9,000 adults who use public transport in nine markets: United States, Singapore, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Mexico, South Africa , Italy and France)
  2. Intelligent transport. What’s in the country’s new infrastructure law and how soon will we see shovels in the ground? May 2021.
  3. USDOT outlines the way forward with the new infrastructure law. January 19, 2022
  4. US DOT officials share their plans for infrastructure funds. November 9, 2021

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CalTrans is copyrighted by the State of California. Cybersource is a copyright of Visa and VISA INTERNATIONAL SERVICE ASSOCIATION.

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