Many public transit infrastructures around the world are in the midst of big technological upgrades. While some systems, such as the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City or the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in and around Philadelphia, still rely on plastic magnetic stripe cards (which are well-known for the frustrations they can cause their users) or tokens, many others have moved on to contactless cards.

From Chicago to London, technologies such as near-field communications have changed how bus and train riders pay their fares. These cards can be easily tapped on a reader, and are also managed securely from associated websites or mobile apps – a big step forward from having to rely solely on on-site vending machines.

At the same time, there is still a way to continue improving the experience for riders as well as transit operators. Reduced fare cards, which offer special discounts to students, senior citizens and individuals with special needs, are a case in point:

  • These cards can reduce the amount someone pays per ride by half or more.
  • They usually have to be renewed on a regular basis, verified with supporting information (e.g., a student ID, a valid Medicare card, etc.) and then reprinted for users.
  • The process can create delays for riders who rely on public transit

More Efficient Card Printing Means a Better Public Transit Experience

Qualified public transit users in the United Arab Emirates recently faced this exact issue when obtaining personalized reduced fare cards. Under the old issuance system, they had to wait up to two weeks between applying for a card and actually receiving it.

The Dubai Road and Transportation Authority only switched to centralized issuance within the last decade, eliminating cash payments that had once been standard for its buses, trains, taxis, water taxis and parking ticket machines. While it was a huge upgrade in its own right, the move contributed to the delayed issuance of reduced fare cards, since the centralized system did not provide any special phases for distributing these cards.

Enter instant issuance. The Dubai RTA saw an opportunity to both improve the user experience on public transit and bring in additional revenue from riders who would otherwise have had to wait weeks before riding. It started with ABBA Electronics, an Entrust partner, setting up Entrust® CD800™ card printers as well as the Entrust® Instant ID™ suite software, and it then began automating some of its key issuance processes.

A qualified rider could now present his or her national ID and receive a special fare card right on the spot. Behind the scenes, smart card readers make this possible by pulling info from the ID cards while issuers filled in other details by hand. The data and photos are then relayed to the RTA’s automatic fare collection system so that the new fare card is guaranteed to be active within the system.

“The Instant ID software imports the applicant’s photo and other data and then the card is personalized using the CD800 printer,” explained Felix Castelino, senior project manager at ABBA.

The Future of Public Transit Fare Cards

The semi-automation that the Dubai RTA successfully implemented with help from ABBA Electronics’ expertise and Entrust’s technology is an important step in delivering the speed and top-notch user experience that today’s transit riders expect.

Looking ahead, fare cards could evolve to serve many new purposes, including serving as bank cards for the unbanked or even being imported into mobile wallets. Secure card printing and issuance from technology partners, as well as proper oversight of mobile payments systems, will be important areas for transit authorities in the years ahead.