Case Study

Tailoring a Mobile Payment System to Keep the Pulse BRT Flowing

GRTC and Genfare collaborate to craft unique proof of payment system

The GRTC Transit System’s long-term partnership with Genfare has resulted in many unique solutions for Richmond’s public transit system over the years.  Most recently, the two organizations collaborated to refresh the system’s entire fare payment program, installing Fast Fare fareboxes, integrating them with GRTC’s Mobile Pass mobile ticketing, and investigating a variety of solutions to enhance the passenger experience in the future.

But when it came time to develop a mobile fare payment solution for GRTC’s new BRT, The Pulse, the collaboration had to rise to a whole new level.  The paper ticket vending machines on each of The Pulse’s 14 stations were designed to be an easy-to-use, traditional solution for those who prefer to purchase a paper ticket, however, GRTC’s tech-savvy passenger base also desired a mobile app payment solution.

The Challenge:

There was one major obstacle to overcome: The Pulse was designed to operate without fareboxes, employing fare inspectors on The Pulse vehicles so that the boarding process would be expedient, to truly keep The Pulse flowing, and as GRTC likes to say, “make more time for life.”

So, how do you roll out a mobile fare payment system when you have no fareboxes or bar code scanners on the vehicles? And, how do you build in fraud protections that will eliminate fare evasion?

The Solution:

Rob Taggart, GRTC Director of Information Systems, said the Genfare team welcomed the challenge of overcoming this obstacle.  “We have always been able to rely on Genfare to help us stay focused on our forward-looking vision, so we knew that we could work together to develop a unique solution.”

“GRTC’s Mobile Pass app had already been live for some time when we starting planning our solution for The Pulse,” said Rob Antonio, Genfare’s Program Manager.  “What we needed to design was a modification to our app that would allow the user to display a proof of fare payment that is specific to the date, time and the station where the passenger boarded.”

The solution that GRTC and Genfare developed relies on the scanning of a QR code that is specific to each Pulse station and is prominently displayed on the station’s signage, and Mobile Pass was modified to include a Pulse-specific module. When the user chooses to use one of their mobile passes (which are currently the 1-, 7-, and 30-day unlimited use mobile passes) to ride The Pulse, the user selects the Pulse pass option when they activate the pass so they can interact with the QR reader at the station using their mobile device’s built-in camera.

Once the user scans the QR code, the pass is activated and they receive a screen like the one shown here that displays where they boarded the Pulse. The displayed clock will start at 45 minutes and begin to count down and move around the screen, which the users leave running in the background while riding the Pulse as a proof of payment.  The animated screen protects against fraud that could result from users who might try to deceive fare inspectors by using screen captures of activated passes.

Once Mobile Pass users complete their rides on The Pulse, they can click the “Deactivate” button, and they will be done until ready to ride The Pulse again.

The Pulse is Strong and Mobile Fare Sales are Healthy

The Pulse launched its initial service in June 2018 and ridership has exceeded expectations.  According to GRTC, there are already more than 30,000 Pulse riders per week. On an average weekday, The Pulse now carries more than 6,000 riders, far exceeding and almost doubling the goal of 3,500 daily riders.

As important to Taggart is the fact that mobile fare purchases are also quite healthy. “We experienced about $30,000 in app-specific sales in the first month after we launched Mobile Pass and we are seeing passengers activate their mobile passes on The Pulse.”

Another important feature of the solution, according to Taggart, is that GRTC is able to track Pulse ridership data from Mobile Pass usage and activation.  “We certainly respect the privacy of our passengers’ information,” said Taggart, “but we are able to analyze how, when, and where the Mobile Passes are used on The Pulse, which is especially important when launching and managing our first BRT service.”

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