TriMet Invests $30 Million for its New NFC Enabled e-Fare System

TriMet—the public transportation service in the Portland, Oregon region and the first transit agency in the US to implement a mobile ticketing smartphone app for use on both buses and trains—has announced plans to introduce an electronic fare (e-fare) system to the Portland metropolitan area by 2017. TriMet’s new e-fare system will allow commuters to use transit-only smart cards, contactless credit and debit cards and NFC-enabled smartphones to pay the fare and travel from one place to another. TriMet has handed over this project to Innovations in Transportation (INIT), which is a leading supplier of intelligent transportation systems and e-ticketing systems for public transportation services worldwide.

In a recent press release by TriMet, Neil McFarlane, General Manager at TriMet said, While we are dedicated to restoring service, we’re also focused on making the ride better and easier for our riders. The ability to conveniently and quickly pay your fare by simply tapping your card or device against an electronic reader is just one of the exciting benefits that come with e-fare and will, we think, encourage more people to ride.

With the new e-fare system, TriMet is also trying to solve the problems of commuters who cannot afford the cost of a monthly pass upfront. The new e-fare system will allow the users to pay for each ride as they travel and once they reach the $100-monthly-pass cap, they will not be charged for further rides. According to the press release, people who ride every day will have all their rides free after the 20th day.

TriMet has signed a $14.3-million base contract with INIT. The contract covers e-fare equipment, e-fare inspection devices, customer Web portals and 1.3 million smart cards. The entire e-fare system will cost TriMet around $30 million including the contract cost and civil construction costs on rail platforms

Other benefits of the new e-fare system by TriMet in the Portland region include:

  • Online account management
  • Easy reloading of the card via phone, the Web, retail stores or the autoload feature
  • Payment protection: If a person loses his card, he can cancel the registered card and the money in his card will still remain in the account
  • Just like gift cards, e-fare cards will be made available to purchase for commuters without a bank account in grocery and retail stores

LTP has tracked the public transit space very closely since 2013, especially in the context of mobile payments adoption. We have covered mass transit payment systems implements around the world, from Oyster in London (one of our very first articles) to Octopus in Hong Kong (which we experienced in person). Mobility (and the technology itself) might or might not play a big role in the payments experience, but transit payments have some unique characteristics that make them critical to mobile payments adoption. As was summarized in this article from earlier this year, we believe that frequency of use and the consumer education involved in transit payments—along with the ability of government agencies to take a long-term view—investments in transit payments go a long way towards seeding and feeding the nascent contactless payments ecosystem.