Article Highlights

Key Takeaway:

Helsinki would join such other large transit authorities in Europe as those in London, Milan, Rome, Madrid, Kiev and Moscow in accepting contactless EMV payments. Besides London, the transit agencies in these other cities do not go beyond support for contactless on one or perhaps two major transport modes, such as metro or buses.

Key Data:

Season tickets had accounted for more than 50% of total trips for Transport for London before the launch of contactless there in 2014, and today they make up a little less than 30%. Around two-thirds of trips are now pay-as-you-go transactions, led by contactless and followed by the still popular closed-loop reloadable Oyster cards.

Organizations Mentioned:

• Littlepay
• Helsinki Regional Transport Authority

(This premium article was originally published in March 2020. © Mobility Payments and Forthwrite Media.)

The Helsinki Regional Transport Authority plans to accept contactless EMV payments on its multimodal system, including its buses, metro, trams and ferries. The rollout, expected to be completed in 2023, will also support daily and weekly fare capping.  

Littlepay, a four-year-old UK-based payments gateway company that focuses on contactless fare collection, announced it had won the gateway contract for the Helsinki project. The provider said it is also in “late-stage discussions” with transit operators or authorities, along with partner providers, in the Nordics, Southern Europe, Latin America and elsewhere. That’s in addition to UK transit operators.  

“We seem to be at a crucial inflection point with regards to ‘cashlessness’ and the rise of contactless payments in transit,” Thea Fisher, Littlepay’s head of commercial, told Mobility Payments’ sister publication NFC Times

Helsinki would join such other large transit authorities in Europe as those in London, Milan, Rome, Madrid, Kiev and Moscow in accepting contactless EMV payments. Besides London, the transit agencies in these other cities do not go beyond support for contactless on one or perhaps two major transport modes, such as metro or buses.

But like London, the Helsinki contactless service would be fully multimodal. In addition to buses, metro trains, trams and ferries, it would also support commuter rail. Riders make around 400 million total trips per year on the various transit services that Helsinki Regional Transport oversees.

Multimodal support for contactless payments allows for full interoperability of the payments service across the metropolitan area’s public transit services.

And fare capping adds to the convenience for customers. Fare capping sets a maximum number of trips or total spending, after which all additional rides are free.  

Transport for London, which has by far the largest contactless EMV fare payments service globally at more than 2.7 million contactless trips per day, found that use of its season tickets dropped by 50% since the fall of 2014. That’s when the authority expanded contactless payments across its entire multimodal network and introduced daily and weekly fare capping for contactless EMV cards and NFC devices. Season tickets had accounted for more than 50% of total trips in London before the launch of contactless in 2014, and today they make up a little less than 30%. Around two-thirds of trips are now pay-as-you-go transactions, led by contactless and followed by the still popular closed-loop reloadable Oyster cards.  

The daily and weekly fare capping require a back-office system to keep track of the trips for cards or devices used by riders. It wasn’t clear which company would be providing this system for the Helsinki Regional Transport’s contactless rollout.

The contactless payments in Helsinki will also include distance-based fares, which will require riders to tap in at their departure points and tap out at their destinations. 

Fare capping and distance-based fares require more sophistication, so usually are not introduced first. Transport for London introduced contactless EMV payments as a pilot in December 2012 on buses for flat fares, which don’t require users to tap out, before broadly expanding the service in October 2014.  In Helsinki, the deployment will begin with a flat-fare pilot on one of the city’s ferry routes, which has been moved back to the beginning of 2021, said Littlepay. Nets will serve as the acquirer for the contactless transactions. 

Helsinki’s contactless EMV rollout may be a little bit behind schedule, however. A request for bids from payments service providers and EMV reader makers, released in December 2018, by Helsinki Regional Transport and TVV lippu- ja maksujärjestelmä Oy (LMJ), the IT procurement arm for Helsinki and other Finnish cities, said the authority was aiming to roll out contactless payments starting in 2019.  

The tender request said the rollout would begin with the pilot on ferries, followed by a second stage to enable single ticket purchases with contactless EMV on trams. And a third and final stage, originally planned for 2022, would install EMV contactless readers on all transport modes, including buses and at metro gates. It isn’t clear whether, in fact, there has been a delay in the rollout and what was the cause. 

Meanwhile, Littlepay’s Fisher confirmed that when launched, Helsinki’s service would accept Visa- and Mastercard-branded credit and debit cards, as well as possibly other card schemes, which she didn’t specify. The transit authority also would accept such Pays wallets as Google Pay and Apple Pay, she said.  

Littlepay, which was founded in 2016, now handles contactless EMV payments on board most of the public transit buses in service in the UK outside of London, including the entire fleets outside of London from three of the country’s top five privately owned bus companies, Go-Ahead, First Group and Arriva, totaling more than 17,000 buses, said Fisher. 

The provider also handles contactless transactions for smaller regional bus companies, N.A.T. Group, Cardiff bus and McGills of Scotland and for a number of other small transit operators.  

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