A new contactless tap to ride bus fare payment system in California marks the early stages in a programme designed to make it easier to use public transportation by improving trip planning and simplifying payments across transit modes.

The new fare payment system is part of a six-month demonstration with the California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP), an initiative of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to simplify travel by increasing access to public transit—including paying for trips by tapping an on-board payment reader with their contactless debit, credit, prepaid card or mobile wallet on smart devices.

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.

Key partners in the project are transit payment processor Littlepay, and ticketing technology specialist Kuba.

Kuba’s off-the-shelf system provides cEMV card validation and processes secure contactless payments, 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 US 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.”

The tap to ride payment system is designed to motivate greener travel. The demo includes the Clean Air Express, a commuter bus service launched in the 1990s to reduce air pollution caused by commuters in single-occupancy cars. Under the new fare payment system, riders who tap to ride will receive a discount on fares, paying $6 (a $1 one-way fare discount) 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.”