About six months ago, we didn’t realise how much damage can touching random surfaces do. Sure, our mothers have always taught us to wash our hands from time to time but now that we’re living in a world grappling through a pandemic, being wary of touching surfaces and washing our hands are of prime importance. So, in such a scenario, how can we make public transport safer? For starters, we could make all payments contact-free.
BPC Banking Technologies’ smart city payment division O-CITY intends to step in with solutions to enable contactless payments for public transport, parking, renting vehicles, and a lot more. We got in touch with Chitrajit Chakrabarti, Head of Sales – GCC, South Asia and India Region, at BPC Banking Technologies, to learn more about the available technology and its applications.
A brief introduction to O-CITY and expanse of its operations
O-CITY is an innovative automated fare collection solution designed by BPC, a leading banking and payment firm. The company has a rich clientele of 300 clients across more than 85 countries. O-CITY was envisaged with the vision of digitalising micro-payments as a key driver of the cashless economy while improving the well-being of citizens. By using O-CITY, governments, public transport operators and merchants can deliver a frictionless payment experience at every touchpoint, leveraging smart, digital and open technologies. Citizens can move freely and make quick payments using their mobile phones or bank card, removing the need for cash or queuing at ticket counters.
Which modes of public transport will be covered by O-CITY contactless cards and digital wallets in India?
The cards and wallets can be used at tollgates, on buses, on trains, on subways, at parking facilities and for bike rental. Beyond public transport, we intend to expand the O-CITY app so that it can be used for all modes of transport in a city and for all public attractions, including museums, parks, festivals, concerts and public theatres, in fact, anywhere a digital ticket is required, whether free or paid. The ultimate objective is to open the city to its residents and visitors, remove gates and barriers, and let people and traffic flow at the tap of a card or the touch of a mobile phone.
Besides contactless payments, what other benefits can O-CITY offer to commuters?
O-CITY represents a win-win for governments and commuters because cities will be more welcoming and accessible. Commuters can save a lot of time due to the convenience and transparency of using O-CITY. First, for example, at each stage of a longer journey, hopping on a train or a bus can be done seamlessly without having to think about the complexity of the overall fare or the different networks involved. Public transport, not just in a city but throughout the entire nation, can be made interoperable and interconnected. Second, travellers can plan their entire journey on their phone. They can choose the route, and get traffic info and notifications in real-time. Third, the fare calculation is automated and transparent for those entitled to a discount, such as senior citizens and students.
How are O-CITY digital payments better than other digital payment methods?
Our automated fare collection platform is much more than a digital wallet. In fact, digital wallets are the ancillary payment instruments to be used to complete the payment eco-system. O-CITY can be used by governments to set fares and manage routes. The system has an app for commuters and one for inspectors. The scope of the system is much larger than that of a digital wallet. Moreover, in several cities worldwide, O-CITY connects to digital wallets, so that tickets can be paid for using these other wallets, and this functionality will continue to be offered. Every day, there is another super app providing a service such as food delivery or ride-sharing, and nationwide digital ticketing for public transport is part of that trend. We are only at the start of this massive shift to digital payments for mass transit. However, Covid-19 is accelerating this transition.
How do open-loop systems ease transactions?
Open-loop payments are attracting attention worldwide as they are a convenient method of paying for transport and other services. Open-loop means that a customer can use any payment method to buy goods or services. For example, to use a bus, they won’t need to get from the bus operator a transport card that cannot be used anywhere else. In essence, customers can use their existing contactless cards to pay for journeys even if they do not have an account with that transport network. A single payment method can, therefore, be used to pay for multiple services.
Our open-loop system frees travellers from the hassle of purchasing tickets and cards, as they can pay with their mobile phone or a payment card they already have. The move to contactless open-loop payments will positively impact the daily lives of millions of passengers worldwide. Both transport agencies and customers will win, and fares should be reduced, enabling greater inclusion and access to public transport.
When will O-CITY digital payment services for public transport become available in India?
In India, the shift to digital payments for public transport varies by region. India’s government has already launched 100 smart city programs; however, the technology has evolved since then and with the pandemic, we could see widespread adoption in 2020 and 2021. There is also a shift in the business model used by operators with the introduction of public-private partnerships (PPPs), by Indian Railways, for example. This is a great step forward because private companies are innovative and more agile and will push the adoption of digital payments. Our partnership with Visa as part of their Visa Ready programme demonstrates how this trend will accelerate. We are currently running several pilot projects that are just a few weeks old. If successful, these can be deployed more fully really fast as they rely on the cloud.
Today, technology is accessible to smaller cities too. It is no longer a privilege for the main business hubs. Governments need to adopt a holistic approach in connecting cities, towns and regions.
Opinion: The pandemic has changed the way people move around cities. Public transport has become the least popular mode of travel for now. Will contactless transactions alone be enough to return people’s confidence in public transport?
The trust can be regained, in part, by adopting contactless payments. The system can be used to enforce social distancing by restricting the number of passengers allowed on a train, a bus or metro. In short, technology can be an enabler too, by facilitating the flow of people and managing the capacity in real-time. For other city attractions, it can even be used to reserve a seat or place in advance, so that the visitor can avoid interacting with the sales staff there.
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