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How contactless travel will help transform urban mobility in a post-COVID world - CitiesToday

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on cities and public transportation companies across the globe as they work to deliver safe, reliable, and inclusive methods of transport. Nick Mackie, Vice President and Global Head of Urban Mobility, Visa, explains why deploying contactless payment technology where riders simply tap to pay — rapidly, and at scale — is critical in a world where no-contact experiences are here to stay.

Photo courtesy of SEPTA.


Nick Mackie, Vice President and Global Head of Urban Mobility, Visa

Pre-COVID, mass transit systems sustainably served millions of people who rely on subways, rail or buses every day. The impacts of the pandemic have been a shock to the system, no doubt. But as we emerge into our new global reality, a growing wave of contactless transit payment adoption will help integrate ridership more seamlessly and safely, catering to new routines of daily life and increasing operational savings and efficiencies for the operators, among other tangible benefits.


With heightened consumer uncertainty over commuting and the challenges in practicing safe social-distancing on journeys, so-called ‘open loop’ contactless travel is helping to re-shape the transit experience, enabling riders to access transit systems using something they already own – whether a credit or debit card, smartwatch or smartphone – without any need to obtain, download or load funds on to a transit fare card in advance.


Air travel and transport ridership eventually recovered from catastrophic events such as the attacks of 9/11 and the 2003 SARS epidemic. But recent surveys show that the road to a post-COVID normal remains more fraught. Governments and transit agencies must plan for longer-term recovery while trying to model the trajectory of work-from-home preferences and policies that could persist for years.


Last March, 48 percent of Americans said that riding public transit poses a high health risk due to the coronavirus. Now, though there are indications that cities and transport networks can get back up and running safely. Experts believe that much of this is the result of improved adherence to public health measures, such as social distancing and wearing masks. Many cities around the world that have seen significant return to public transport have yet to experience outbreaks that can be traced to public transportation – including in Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, Paris, and Berlin.


As mobility system players adapt, a report from the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) and consultancy Arthur D. Little identified “game changers” it believes will be critical – including system-level thinking, public-private partnerships and accelerating digitalization to proactively engage with users.


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