Analysis: Are we nearly there yet on seamless ticketing?


Amin Shayan, CEO of Littlepay, which provides the technology that allows tap-on, tap-off fare capping across Brighton and Hove and Metrobus buses in the South East, looks at how the concept could be more widely used across all public transport modes.

At Littlepay we are proud to be a payment service provider that works exclusively with the transit industry – perhaps the only one – and help provide effortless payment journeys.


We envisage city travel being seamless, with passengers moving smoothly to their destinations using any combination of operators and transit modes. In our ‘dream city’ scenario, there’s no need to carry cash or queue to pay.

Simple, tap-on, tap-off transactions take less than seconds and you can board and exit freely. You can take multiple journeys, knowing that you will automatically be charged the best value fare and that your data and money is in safe hands.

We’ve been working with UK bus operators for three years, enabling adoption of contactless payments by 90 bus operators to date. Our payments platform has processed over 70 million transactions.

Last week, we reached another big milestone on the journey to seamless travel, with the deployment of multi-operator capping. This has huge potential to simplify customer payments and facilitate collaborative ticketing schemes across operators and transit modes.

We introduced contactless payments with fare capping on almost 1,000 Brighton & Hove and Metrobus buses. Although both services are owned by the Go-Ahead Group, in the context of payment processing, they are seen as different merchants. We provided an interoperable, contactless payment solution that applies fare caps over their independent fare structures.

This means customers can travel on any of their routes, tapping a reader with a bank card, smartphone or enabled device, as they board and exit buses. Their journeys are recorded and the fare they pay is calculated 24-hours after they first tap-on. With daily and weekly fare caps in place, they always pay the best price for their travel.

Once this solution went live we got a deeper appreciation of how transformative it is, and valuable to passengers. In less than a week, there were over 50,000 tap-on, tap-off transactions processed and 2,700 people enjoyed savings on their travel as a result of daily fare caps.

Arguably, it would be even better if other operators in Brighton joined the party. The technology we used can process payments and apply rules, such as daily, weekly and rolling fare caps, across as many operators as needed to make paying for city-wide travel simple.

The big takeaway is that there is now a successful precedent for multi-operator, contactless ticketing in the UK. We’re excited by the possibilities this opens up for smart ticketing schemes involving several operators and combining bus, tram and train travel.

The benefits of co-operative contactless adoption could be significant for operators, passengers, society and the environment. Delivered in a compelling way, capped schemes in major urban areas could play a role in winning back market share from the private car. Initiatives like these would answer the need for a simpler, cheaper, greener way to travel.

On the operator side, going contactless cuts the cost of issuing paper tickets and smart cards; of staffing and maintaining ticket offices and kiosks; of cash-handling and operational issues caused by slow boarding times. By teaming up with other operators, creating a joined-up solution for public city transport, all sides will likely enjoy an uplift in customers.


From the passengers’ perspective, the travel experience is better with contactless, and more so when they can move about using a variety of public transport. Faster, frictionless journeys and no need to analyse complex fare structures: these are compelling reasons to ride, not drive.

There’s no mystery about what people are looking for when they travel. Providing value, convenience and comfort is the key. Building on the brilliant basics - delivering services on time, communicating effectively and solving problems quickly - technology such as contactless ticketing and WiFi connectivity increases the value of using public transport.

For now, independent bus operators are leading the way, while rail networks, for many reasons, are slower to come on board. One obstacle is the higher average transaction value of rail ticket prices, which is surmountable by putting in place a shared issuer liability framework under which the train companies involved and the issuing banks would share responsibility.

Another hurdle is that many rail networks are locked in with existing gate and validator vendors and see this as an impossible, or at least expensive, issue to resolve. We want to get the word out that there are device agnostic solutions that meet most payment ecosystem challenges.

We are in talks with several local rail operators about specific implementations, but it’s likely that an assertive move by the UK rail network will be necessary to deploy a nationwide solution. When this happens, the technology is absolutely there to introduce multi-operator, multi-transit mode contactless ticketing schemes of any scale.

Cutting out the complexity of ticketing is essential if we want to enter an exciting new era for public transport, in which it provides a holistic solution for urban travel. Contactless payment solutions across bus and rail could go a long way towards building consumer confidence and getting people out of cars and into public transport.

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