Commuting’s a Drag, But Contactless Can Ease the Misery

Summer’s here, and the commute is likely sticky and dreary and just as long, or longer as it ever was.  We waste too much time on the way to salt mines and part of the problem lies in the inefficiencies of buying tickets in the first place.  Can contactless make the slog a little less, well, sluggish?  

It’s summer.

So of course you are thinking about work.

Maybe about playing hooky. But even when you are thinking hooky you are thinking about work, in a derivative way.

But then again, think about this: You’re wasting your life. Maybe in many ways. But we’re not here to get all existential on you.

You’re wasting your life – on the daily commute.

First, some stats: The U.S. Census reported not long ago that the average worker logs 26 minutes to get to work. That number, refreshed to reflect 2015, is up significantly from the 21 minutes seen in 1980, when the bureau began tracking that data. Up 23 percent over that stretch, we’d bet it feels like a lot longer. The math shakes out this way: 26 minutes, each way, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, and with 136 million workers slogging (OKnot all of them, but we are being general here) and The Washington Post noted 1.8 trillion minutes spent on the grind before the daily grind. That’s 1.2 billion days.

Do you have any idea how much binge watching on Netflix we as a nation could get done, productively, during that timeframe?

Note that this is an average, and the 26-minute number sits in the middle of a range that has as its most exasperating a 17 percent group – that’s 17 percent as a whole – that have commutes longer than 45 minutes. Numerous polls show a general sense of misery when it comes to the commute, and we wonder what can help salve that misery. Yes, working from home helps.

But absent that and since workers are not really in a position to move their houses or workplaces at will, the next best solution is to shorten the commute. APTA estimates that people board public transit 35 million times each day.  The actual mechanics of the commute can be shortened, or at least made more intuitive, shaving time and making commutes more efficient. With more efficient commute times, transport companies and even individual businesses all benefit, with productivity boosts that, in turn, help margins.

Where people board trains and buses there is the moment of payment, the choosing and the getting of tickets. There’s friction in payments almost everywhere you look.  To reduce the transit-specific friction in payments would be to make that part of the commute a little easier.  You know, the endless wait behind some hapless commuter who’s lost a ticket or wants to pay with exact change or doesn’t quite know where to go … and who’s to say there isn’t a ripple effect in the wings?  You miss your train, bus, trolley (depending on where you are) and then the commute becomes that much longer.

Contactless payments – aye, there’s the rub, or the tap and the pay. Amid the ripple effects: payments firms benefit too as mobile transactions grow, and transactions can grow only where friction is lessened.

Exhibit A might be the London transport network’s move to contactless-enabled ticketing, and figures released this week show the impact of digital wallets such as Samsung Pay and Apple Pay on buying tickets and boarding trains.  With Android Pay, in conjunction with Mastercard, for example, there’s a streamlined experience as you can board without the “middle man” of the ticket itself.

Within the last five years, contactless journeys have grown to be 40 percent of all “pay as you go” rides, which is up from 25 percent at this time last year.  It follows that as people become more comfortable with using their devices to pay at the point of departure, they’d use the same methodologies in other use cases – in stores, perhaps.

Wanna get even more futuristic? A Swedish rail firm is letting passengers use biometric implants as their right of passage.

One fact illustrated by contactless as a means to getting from place to place: The act of being granted permission to board, and get on board, and get from locale to locale differs from many other transactions where contactless may not be the time-saver that it is in commuting where, literally every minute counts. Think of using contactless at the point of sale, in a retail transaction, that may quicken the act of payment while you stand around while a cashier handles the merchandise, or exchanges pleasantries when, really, all you want to do is exit, stage left.

The overall effect in the very specific use cases of transport? Buses can speed up as fare collection becomes quicker. Fares are paid more reliably, which means a cut in evasion (and lost revenue). And you, dear commuter, get a little of your life back, using contactless as a means of saving a bit of time – and making contact with the real world outside your train or bus window.