U.K.'s West Midlands seeks to cap fares paid by contactless card

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The department of Transport for the West Midlands (TfWM) is investigating fare capping contactless payments on the region’s public transport.

TfWM, which stepped up in June to offer contactless card payments across its bus service, is looking at how to provide a smart ticketing system to ensure that contactless card users get the best rate on a journey, regardless of which mode of transport the customer opts for.

Inside TfWM’s published budget for 2018-19, the transport authority commits to developing a best-value capping system. Customers will be able to use their own contactless EMV card to get the best fare.

The ultimate goal is for "customers to be able to pay a single, best-value, capped fare, which is then automatically charged to the account they have chosen," explains the latest Midland Connect update.

Currently, local authorities and transport operators are working on the business case to accept contactless payments via travel cards, bank cards, mobile phones and other smart devices.

There are hopes that accepting fare-capped contactless card payments, or cEMV ticketing, will attract new users to public transport and encourage existing customers to make more use of the Midland transport service.

cEMV ticketing is already in operation on Midland Metro, Diamond bus and National Express bus services, according to the head of TfWM’s ticketing system, Matt Lewis. And the National Express bus services also features a daily cap to ensure passengers don’t pay more than the operator’s day ticket price.

Until June 2018, the Midlands’ bus service reportedly accepted exact change only. Its 12 bus stations cover roughly 11,000 passenger stops dotted across the region.

More broadly, TfWM is responsible for the delivery of public transport and roughly 322 million passenger journeys a year. Among its key mandates is to address the issue of congestion and offer seamless connectivity for people and goods across the West Midlands.

These mandates align well with what local Mayor Andy Street is reportedly hearing from his constituents about wanting easier and faster fare payments. And it looks like contactless will grease the wheels.

In a 2017 pilot of capped contactless card payments, two-thirds of West Midland travelers said they liked it because it was quicker.

Most likely in the interest of reducing friction and adoption delays, TfWM plans to assist smaller operators to make use of cEMV contactless payments. While in most cases, ticket machines will be leased to operators, TfWM commits to providing them to operators that cannot obtain them on their own.

According to the U.K. Card Association, one in four card payments in the U.K. are now contactless, contributing more than £3.3 billion to payments every month.

With the rise of contactless payments, there are of course security concerns. While the U.K. Card Association strongly touts the security benefits of contactless payments, the consumer affairs website warned back in 2017 that card users would be wise to regularly check their statements for bogus purchases.

“With increased technological convenience comes increased incentives for fraudsters to hack accounts, so it’s essential cardholders regularly check their spending to ensure it is all legitimate,” says the Independent.

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