Article Highlights

Key Takeaway:

Toronto regional transit agency Metrolinx is continuing with a contactless payments pilot launched in March. The agency then plans a phased rollout of open loop, taking a rather slow approach to expanding contactless fare acceptance.

Key Data:

Since launching the contactless pilot on the UP Express in March, Metrolinx has recorded just under 8,700 trips paid for with contactless. The rather low figure is in part because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which greatly reduced ridership on the airport line, a Metrolinx spokeswoman said.

Organizations Mentioned:

• Metrolinx
• TTC (Toronto)
• Durham Region Transit
• Hamilton Street Railway
• Interac
• Bytemark

Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is continuing its move to open-loop payments, though is taking a slow approach–with transit authority Metrolinx not calling an end yet to a more than six-month pilot and then committing to pursuing a rollout in a “phased manner.”

Metrolinx, one of the greater Toronto area’s two major transit agencies and which owns and operates the regionwide Presto closed-loop contactless card program, recently announced it would accept Canada’s domestic debit scheme Interac for the contactless pilot on the UP Express airport line. It is accepting Visa- and Mastercard-branded debit cards, as well, in addition to credit cards and mobile wallets.

A Metrolinx spokeswoman confirmed to Mobility Payments that after the pilot–which does not have a definite end date–the agency plans to roll out contactless on the airport line and other transit modes it runs or serves with the Presto card.

That includes GO Transit, a commuter and intercity bus operator; and a number of local bus and rail agencies that use Presto. But when asked, the spokeswoman could not say whether that rollout would occur by next year.

“When we do, it will be in a phased manner, and we are in ongoing discussions with our partners on sequencing and timelines,” she said. “We’re working as quickly as possible alongside our partners to introduce these new options to customers.”

Reports about a year ago said Metrolinx would not test contactless payments on the Presto readers for Toronto’s other major transit agency, the Toronto Transit Commission, or TTC, before 2023. TTC oversees the Toronto subway, along with bus and streetcars in the city and some surrounding areas, and uses Metrolinx’s Presto card. The press report said that TTC was not happy with the pace of the contactless rollout.

Before TTC could get contactless payments, new terminals would have to be rolled out supporting open loop, along with Presto.

Metrolinx announced in January that it had replaced nearly 10-year-old Presto terminals for GO Transit, UP Express and for such local transit agencies in the greater Toronto-Hamilton area as Brampton Transit, Burlington Transit, Durham Region Transit and the Hamilton Street Railway.

The new terminals also can scan barcode-based mobile tickets for the Presto E-Tickets app, launched last September for the Durham Region Transit and the Hamilton Street Railway and expanding to other local agencies. E-Tickets uses a SaaS ticketing service from U.S.-based Bytemark.

Since launching the contactless pilot on the UP Express in March, Metrolinx has recorded just under 8,700 trips paid for with contactless, the spokeswoman told Mobility Payments. The agency now accepts contactless EMV credit cards branded Visa, Mastercard or American Express; debit cards branded Visa, Mastercard and Interac; and these branded card credentials loaded into mobile wallets connected with Apple Pay and Google Pay.

The rather low figure for contactless trips made during the pilot is in part because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which greatly reduced ridership on the airport line, among other public transit services, the Metrolinx spokeswoman told Mobility Payments. That is expected to change, she said.

“With more customers returning and more people traveling, we expect this number to continue to increase,” she said.

The pandemic may also be a reason Metrolinx was late with integrating Interac debit acceptance into readers for the pilot. The authority had earlier stated it planned to launch Interac acceptance last spring.

Canadian cities, in general, have been slow to enable contactless open-loop fare payments, with Vancouver’s TransLink the only major agency to roll out acceptance of contactless EMV cards and mobile wallets. TransLink launched open loop in 2018, but only with credit cards.

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