Contactless Ticketing For Public Transport: All You Need To Know

Contactless Ticketing For Public Transport: All You Need To Know

The future is contactless, but we believe it is also cashless. The transition toward cashless payments began a long time ago, and yet there are many areas where people don’t give a second thought to paying with money. The old, dirty and inconvenient cash. In transit, it poses so many problems – from the need to have exact change to increasing dwell times and even leading to fraud opportunities. This is why we at Modeshift are doing everything possible to help our customers help riders choose contactless ticketing for public transport. This is how we do it. 

In this article:

What is contactless ticketing for public transport? 

Contactless ticket is an umbrella term for a variety of validation media: smart cards, mobile ticketing, EMV, and other methods that do not require the rider to handle cash or touch a machine. This is enabled with the help of fare collection systems that support the reloading of the validation media chosen by the rider. In recent years, account-based systems have become the golden standard for innovation and are being widely used in public transport systems.  

With an account-based fare collection system, riders create a centralized account that can be connected to a variety of contactless fare media.  

  • Smartphones: Riders can access their account and the stored fares via a dedicated mobile ticketing application
  • Smart cards: Riders request special smart cards (most often using NFC technology) from the agency and then connect their cards to their account.  
  • EMV payments: Riders connect their existing debit card or credit card to their account and use it instead of a smart card. 
  • Smart wearables: NFC-enabled smart wearables can also be connected. 

Mobile devices and bank cards have become an inseparable part of our lives and it is only natural that we use them to validate onboard public transit vehicles, too.  

What are their advantages? 

There are many advantages of going contactless – for agencies and riders alike.  

Benefits for the agency

  • Reduced fare media cost: When passengers decide to adopt contactless technologies, the need to constantly print tickets will become a thing of the past. As more and more riders opt for mobile ticketing and EMV payments, smart cards will also become obsolete (on a slower pace). 
  • Reduced hardware: With contactless ticketing options, validators are smaller and at the fraction of the price of clumsy TVMs. Since account-based fare collection systems offer even unbanked riders the opportunity to use the technology, TVMs might also become obsolete – or at least, agencies can cut their number as the first step towards full digitalization. 
  • Reduced staffing costs: With a simple and robust contactless ticketing system, agencies will be able to reduce ticket window staff and reallocate the available resources to other areas. 
  • Reduced dwell times: Drivers will no longer need to handle cash or validate tickets. They will be able to focus on what they do best – drive safely. This will lead to reduced dwell times and an overall better public transit experience. 

Benefits for riders

  • Quicker boarding: Simply tap your card or scan the QR code from the mobile ticketing app to validate. It takes less than a second and obliterated the dreaded queues. 
  • No need to carry more cards: If riders opt for mobile ticketing or EMV, they can reduce the number of cards in their wallet.  
  • Accessible everywhere: Account-based ticketing systems (like Modeshift’s) allow riders to access their accounts everywhere and at any time. Unlike media-based systems where once a rider loses their card they lose all stored value, account-based systems allow riders to simply use another device or card to access their wallet. 
  • More hygienic: The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that the less we touch surfaces and money in our daily lives, the better. Contactless ticketing makes this easier. 

Did we mention contactless tickets are eco-friendly? They help transit agencies and cities further reduce their carbon emissions and waste! 

How are they used? 

Contactless tickets are used easily and quickly. Depending on their preferences, riders can choose the type that best suits their lifestyle. 

  • Mobile ticketing 

With mobile ticketing, riders download an app to their smartphone. After logging in to their account, they can load funds to their wallet, activate/validate tickets to board a vehicle or check their balance and validation history. Within the mobile application, tickets are presented as QR codes – riders simply need to scan that QR code at the validators inside public transit vehicles. QR codes are unique and dynamic, and if an inspector needs to verify that a specific ticket is valid, all they need to do is scan it with their mobile application. In certain cases, visual inspection of the ticket can serve as both a validation and inspection method. 

  • Smart cards 

Smart cards are an intuitive and easy-to-use method that has been a part of our daily lives for decades. Within an account-based ecosystem, riders can connect their account to a specific smart card and once they load funds to the account, they are automatically available to be used with the card. To board a vehicle, riders simply need to tap their card at the card reader.  

  • EMV payments 

EMV is the most recent and most exciting technology to come to the transit market. It uses open-loop payments via Europay, Mastercard and Visa contactless cards. To use this method, riders connect their contactless bank cards to their accounts and use them to securely pay onboard a vehicle. EMV offers unique fare models to be implemented seamlessly and effortlessly (such as simple or aggregated pay-as-you-go models, pre-purchased tickets, fare capping, etc.). 

  • Smart wearables 

Smart wearables are a part of many active people nowadays. If they support the NFC protocol, they can be connected to a rider’s account via the dedicated mobile application and then used to validate just like a smart card. 

Contactless tickets and Covid-19 

The pandemic was (and still is) a challenging event for mass transit. Stay-at-home orders were introduced worldwide, mask mandates followed, and people stormed drugstores to stock up on hand sanitizer. But even in these hard times, transit had to keep going to serve all the essential workers. Ridership declined drastically and some transit agencies had to introduce free fares – as cash and close contact were dangerous, to protect their personnel and riders.  

This situation brought forth the need for contactless payments and contactless ticketing options. More and more agencies started looking into these options and, coupled with the CARES Act (a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill that the US government passed to tackle the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic), the shift towards mass digitalization started gaining unprecedented momentum.  

Contactless ticketing proved to be the safer choice for both riders and drivers, while still driving the expected fare collection ratio and in some cases – even improving it.  

What’s the future of contactless ticketing? 

Contactless is one of the most requested products that Modeshift offers. The fast adoption of this technology paints its bright future – with funding invested in research and development for even better ways to pay, it surely will be a significant part of the transit landscape and can even obliterate things of the past such as TVMs and drivers selling tickets.  

Today, large cities simply can’t afford to not offer contactless ticketing to their citizens – as they would expect this simple digitalization.  



Contactless ticketing is a technology that utilizes digital tickets instead of paper ones to eliminate the need for cash handling.
Contactless ticket refers to a variety of fare media such as mobile ticketing (where riders use an app on their smartphones to validate), smart cards, EMV payments and others. Validation is done with the help of special equipment installed inside the public transit vehicle.
Depending on the fare media chosen by the riders, they can reload their accounts and/or smart cards in several ways: at a service window, via dedicated mobile apps, online, or via their bank card (EMV).
Contactless ticketing is ideal for use on buses as it can eliminate the need for the driver to sell and validate tickets.