Commuter-benefits provider TransitCenter Inc. has begun participating in the six-month contactless-payment trial MasterCard Worldwide is leading along with three New York-area transit agencies.

TransitCenter is providing a Visa-branded contactless prepaid debit card select commuters may use to pay for transit fares at certain subway stops and bus lines. The Bancorp Bank issues the card.

MasterCard had a three-month exclusive arrangement to be the sole brand accepted in the trial because it helped spur the project and helped develop the contactless-fare technology. The transit agencies asked Visa Inc. to join the pilot because the players involved recognized more card-brand options would benefit commuters (see story). 

The trial ends Nov. 30.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority asked TransitCenter to join the pilot, according to Susan O’Sullivan, TransitCenter vice president of marketing.

“As transit operators are moving to a contactless way for commuters to pay, as a commuter-benefits provider it is important that we are a part of this pilot,” she says.

Commuters that already use TransitCenter’s magnetic stripe card are able to buy transit fares with pretax earnings employers deduct from their paychecks. Commuters involved in the trial will have the option to transfer funds from the magnetic stripe card to the contactless card to load their transit card accounts to pay fares.

TransitCenter upon completion of the trial will survey users on their experience paying with the cards, O'Sullivan says. The company will use the information from the survey to determine whether cardholders are willing to use contactless payments.

If and when a New York area transit authority launches an open-loop fare-collection system, commuters still would receive the same pretax benefits associated with TransitCenter mag-stripe card.

A move to contactless “would allow commuters to have full use of their transit benefits at any transit agency that deployed an open-loop contactless fare-payment system,” says Steve Frazzini, chief officer for MetroCard operations at the Metropolitan Transit Authority. MetroCard is a mag-stripe fare-payment scheme used on all New York City subways and bus lines.

It is unclear what step the transit agencies will take next after the trial ends. Frazzini was unable to comment on the authority’s future plans, and a MasterCard spokesperson says it will be up to the authority to decide what happens next.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and New Jersey Transit also are involved in the pilot.

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