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Cash-Free Transit Is the New Reality, in Canada and Abroad

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Last updated on December 9, 2018 Views: 547 Comments: 0

Last year, when I was in Oslo, I noticed something interesting: Absolutely no one there uses cash—whether dining out, buying Nordic sweaters, or taking advantage of public transit. When it comes to getting to and from the airport on an express train, or just navigating the city by bus or subway, the citizens of Oslo (and temporary visitors) can simply open an app and hop on board.

The cashless transit option certainly isn’t unique to Norway. Around the world, from Oslo to Seattle, buses, trains, trams and taxis are increasingly going cashless either through prepaid cards, dedicated apps, Apple Pay or other easy, convenient methods to access an essential service. Riders who use these services will never again have to worry about having the right change to hop on a bus, or enough cash to take a train.

One of the forerunners of the cashless transit movement was definitely Uber, which allows users to create a profile and peg a credit card to all transactions. The benefits of such a system are clear: Users don’t have to worry about carrying around an awkward jumble of cash; they have an easily accessible record of their transactions (especially in the case of travel for work); and they can earn rewards on their credit cards while they spend.

When it comes to mass transit systems, there are additional benefits, too. Going cashless can eliminate bottlenecks at both stations and points of entry.

London’s Oyster card—which allows users to add value both at machines in stations and online—was first introduced in 2003, an early example of the cashless model. And in May, Visa Canada announced that it is rolling out a contactless payment plan across Metro Vancouver’s transit system (with an eye to eventually integrate it across the country), which will allow commuters to simply tap their cards on dedicated readers. Visa Transit Global Solutions also has similar projects underway in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Cashless transit is part of the growing global trend away from cash and toward mobile or app-based payments. According to one estimate, only 10% of all transactions will be cash-based by 2030. Sweden is widely perceived to be the most cashless economy on the planet (sorry Norway) and the BBC has reported that Swedes make fewer than 20% of their store purchases with cash. Even developing countries are riding the cashless train—last year, Vietnam announced an initiative to go mostly cashless by 2020, citing greater transparency and efficiency.

But while this trend has proliferated across the world and across multiple industries, it has been particularly popular in the world of transit. Riders—whether they’re hopping in and out of Uber or an express bus—want an easy, seamless experience without any unnecessary hassles or time-consuming hiccups. No one wants to wait in line, even for an extra couple of minutes, before boarding a bus because everyone is paying in cash. And no one wants a cab driver who can’t change a $20.

And so, as Canada moves toward a cashless economy, here are some of our global peers’ most useful and innovative transit options that we might learn from.


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Shanghai’s metro system—which carries a staggering 10 million passengers a day—officially went cashless in January, and now offers riders a QR code. Payments can be made through AliPay (an online payment platform) or China UnionPay (a financial services company that processes credit card payments)—often at a discount over regular fares. Downloadable QR codes have become increasingly popular across China to pay for everything from street food to cash gifts at weddings.


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Chronically bogged down by gridlock, this growing northwestern city has made a concerted effort to improve mass transit service—and part of that effort includes a dedicated, pan-transit app called Transit Go, that allows commuters to pay for bus, monorail, streetcar, train and water taxi tickets. In addition, the app has its own trip planning function, which helps navigate a complicated system with plenty of moving parts.


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A cashless, contactless payment option has already been rolled out across much of London. This means that, in addition to the option of paying for a fare with either cash or a transit card, riders also have the option of using a credit or debit card directly on a card reader when they enter a station or individual means of transport, like a bus.

Los Angeles

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While the GoLA app does not yet offer the opportunity to buy tickets on local mass transit, it does integrate other cashless options like Uber and Lyft into trip planning. And in a very California touch, the app can also calculate how many calories can be burned on a particular trip.

Hong Kong

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Unlike so many other major urban centers, Hong Kong’s clean and efficient Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is much loved by locals. And the MTR app has only increased this adoration. In addition to schedules, route planning and ticket purchase, this app also provides accessibility information for individuals with physical disabilities and tips about visiting the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

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