Can contactless cards bring riders back to Miami's subways?

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Miami’s mass transit system is adding contactless card payments on its Metrorail service as it combats ridership decline.

The Miami Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works has been experiencing a steady decline in monthly ridership across all three of its main mass transit services: Metrobus, Metrorail and Metromover. This past March, Metrorail served only 1.55 million monthly riders, down from 1.7 million riders in March 2018 and 1.93 million riders in March 2017.

By enabling contactless payments for transit, the transit system will eliminate one common hassle all potential riders experience when taking mass transit — queuing at turnstiles while riders pay their fares . This should make the Metrorail service a more attractive ride option.

The move to enable contactless cards on the Miami Metrorail is just the latest example of the major card networks using transit systems to drive consumer contactless adoption. Mastercard has viewed contactless cards and digital wallets such as Apple Pay as critical to its overall business growth.

“Transit for us is strategic for growth in commerce. Transit acts as a halo system for all merchants nearby such as coffee shops. If a rider uses a contactless card for the transit then they are are also inclined to use it at a merchant nearby,” said Linda Kirkpatrick, executive vice president of U.S. merchants and acceptance at Mastercard.

In a press release from the Miami Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) contactless Visa, Mastercard and American Express cards as well as Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and Fitbit Pay will be enabled starting Wednesday. DTPW Director Alice Bravo stated that the purpose of enabling contactless was ultimately to make it easier to use transit.

Contactless cards have been widely adopted in overseas transit systems. Transport for London reported that 55% of all payments are made using contactless means. Additionally, the TfL reported that it brings in 53,000 new contactless users each day. In October the U.K. reached the tipping point where 50% of card transactions became contactless.

When New York launched its open-loop contactless OMNY payments system in June, it drew 39,000 users in the first three days, shredding the systems forecast of just 13,500 expected users. This month, InComm partnered with the Los Angeles County Metro to boost the number of locations consumers can buy its contactless TAP transit cards to 2,200 by 2020, from 450 stores today, in a drive to open greater access to potential riders.

While the Miami transit system may be small in comparison to London, New York or Los Angeles, it stands out as a destination for domestic and global travelers.

“Miami is a mecca for international commerce," Kirkpatrick said. "There are a lot of international travelers that visit and carry contactless cards. So the move by Metrorail serves not only the people who live in the city, but also the people who visit it. It creates a halo effect the encourages contactless when travelers return to their homes wherever that may be.”

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