Cross-country road trips have featured prominently in the American psyche since Nat King Cole sang about the wonders of riding down Route 66, but traveling within cities is far less romanticized.
Consumers trekking from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Chicago to New York and beyond who do not have access to a car are met with very different transit systems whose complexity impedes geographical navigation. No two cities share the same subway systems, bus routes or cab companies.
Paying to access an unfamiliar transit system can be a journey in itself. Most cities and towns use their own payment systems, with many requiring consumers to obtain special cards or tokens to ride their trains, buses and trolleys. Mass transit systems in the U.S. can be complex and highly disconnected from each other, but some companies are taking aim at the problem by smoothing the payments process, David Block-Schachter, chief business officer at Transit, told PYMNTS in an interview.
Transit is a mobile app that offers a unified interface through which users can pay for ridesharing services as well as public transit offerings, including bikesharing systems, buses and trains. Consumers create Transit accounts and enter their payment information, and the app then links to transit system apps’ payment gateways to enable automatic payments.
The app is available in more than 200 cities across 10 countries, Block-Schachter said. Transit users can thus use the app to plan multimodal trips, unlocking bikeshare and public transit services in dozens of locations via a single app that aims to streamline the process by automatically supplying names, email addresses and credit card details.
Navigating a Fractured Terrain
Transportation systems tend to be fractured and highly localized. Different metropolitan areas support different payment gateways and methods, forcing consumers traveling between cities and towns to juggle multiple systems across various channels.
“You come from one place where you use a token, another place where you have to go get a pass and a third place where you’ve got the smart card that you have to purchase and load,” Block-Schachter said.
He explained that this results not only in higher transportation costs but also in slow, friction-laden travel experiences. Switching between payment channels can take time, too, which could cause travelers on tight schedules to miss their transit departure windows. Transit aims to reduce these frictions by using application programming interfaces (APIs) that link with each local transit offering’s digital payment system. Transit uses Spreedly’s services to tokenize users’ payment information and facilitate payments across these various transportation services.
“So, what that means is with our partners who have different software development kits (SDKs), they have different apps and have all of these different things,” Block-Schachter explained. “But when you’re purchasing within Transit, it is the same, whether you’re in Cincinnati or whether you’re in … St. Louis.”
A Layered Look at the Long Run
Integrated solutions are only part of what Block-Schachter said he sees as a broader, market-wide drive for a unified and user-friendly transit ecosystem. He explained that there is a push to make localized transit systems available to more individuals while also fostering a more solidified payments system that allows global consumer bases to more easily and smoothly access these local markets.
He pointed to the taxi industry as a use case that shows how both forces can affect a given market’s transit payments. Local taxi companies with 30 to 40 vehicles in their fleets might use their own APIs to process transactions, for example, but these solutions are not always compatible with those of other taxi businesses or regional transit systems.
“There are a ton of different APIs out there … [and] the APIs for Lyft are different [from] the APIs for Uber, [which] are different [from] the APIs for one bikeshare company and … so on and so on,” Block-Schachter said.
Adding new payment layers on top of these disparate APIs can promote a more cohesive, broader transit system that reduces these frictions, he explained.
“What that has meant is that you’re able to build apps like ours on top of that, which improve the user experience,” Block- Schachter explained.
A single, overarching payment layer that can connect with individual payment gateways could ease access to different transit systems. There is currently no universal payment layer that can enable access to all transit options within the U.S., but common standards have largely been adopted for both bikeshare and public transit trip planning services. Integrated solutions and other offerings that leverage these common information sharing systems to provide beginning-to-end transit payments options can bridge the gaps between localized systems, paving the way for smoother travels.