Apple Pay Transit and 6 Reasons for Closed Transit Fare Systems

After the announcement of Apple Card and more Apple Pay Transit coming soon to “major cities in America” like Chicago (Salt Lake City/Utah Transit Authority is an embarrassment to Apple since UTA dropped Apple Pay EMV credit card support in summer 2018 because of too many difficulties), I came across this interesting tidbit about the Ventra card:

Arguably it’s a good thing that the Ventra prepaid debit card is going the way of the dinosaur. The debit card function debuted with a long list of fees that had the potential to siphon of much of the money stored on the card, including:

A $1.50 ATM withdrawal fee
A $2 fee to speak to someone about the retail debit account.
A $6.00 fee for closing out the debit balance
A $2 fee for a paper statement
A $2.95 fee to add money to the debit account using a personal credit card
A $10 per hour fee for “account research’’ to resolve account discrepancies

“These fees were probably not any different than other bank cards offered by Money Network or Meta Bank or other predatory banks,” says Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, who reported on the issue at the time. “But it was shameful for the CTA to be aligned with that.”

After a backlash, most of these fees were reduced or eliminated, but CTA retail outlets were still allowed to charge Ventra card holders a fee of up to $4.95 to load cash on the debit sides of their cards. So maybe it is for the best that the CTA is getting out of the bank card business.

Streets Blog Chicago December 2017

Open loop transit fare systems with EMV contactless credit cards are invariably promoted as a great convenience and the bright open future of transit, but the dark business downsides of letting credit companies and banks on transit gates is rarely, if ever discussed.

Fees and predatory banks are never going away and will always be a problem as long as credit cards are allowed on transit gates. It’s a much better business solution to keep banks one step removed from the process and limited to the back end for adding money to transit prepaid cards that can then be used for building a real business that benefits the entire transit region. In one sense Apple changing the rules for Apple Pay Cash person to person transfers protects customers from a potential layer of ‘predatory fees’ by removing the credit card (debit cards are still ok) .

I have said it many times and say it again: if a transit region is serious about building a Japanese style Transit Platform, keeping transit gates closed system is the first rule of business. The next step is leveraging the transit card on digital payment platforms like Apple Pay and Google Pay that can mix and match credit/debit cards for adding money on the back end, link with rewards and much more.

For JR East the tight integration of transit, Suica and retail has been very successful: 30% of 2017 revenue (26.8 billion USD) was Suica/IT/Retail projected to grow to 40% by 2027. It’s a business model that grows revenue even when transit ridership has leveled off. This kind of growth is impossible to accomplish with open transit fare systems.

JR East presentation slide from March 2019

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