Traveling through San Francisco on contactless tickets

As the home of global payments firm Visa Inc,it’s no surprise that contactless is such a big hit in San Francisco. The city has featured in promotional videos from the company highlighting the convenience of leaving a wallet at home and paying for small value items with contactless.

But the trend for contactless goes back almost a decade,thanks to an early enthusiasm for the technology from transit operators in the area. Back in 2002 San Francisco trialed 7,000 contactless cards – branded Translink – with six of the region’s largest transport operators. Then,in 2003,the entire San Francisco Bay transport network began rolling out contactless card technology. The launch of the scheme saw the deployment of 400,000 Translink dual interface cards for use on the city’s bus,ferry,tram,train and railcar services as well as parking meters.

Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART’s) SFO Airline Employee Discount Program is part of the Translink initiative. It provides a discount fare program for airline employees who take BART to work. Employees were given contactless cards which could be used to activate discounted fare structures when used at the SFO BART Station.

In 2010,Cubic Transportation Systems began installing Clipper card reader technology on fare boxes,gates and ticketing machines in the San Francisco Bay Area transportation network. So far,transit firms on the Clipper plan include Muni,BART,AC Transit,Golden Gate Transit,Golden Gate Ferry and Caltrainm and this will eventually include a total of 25 transit agencies.

The strong start that transit has made in San Francisco’s contactless deployments may explain one of the patent applications that Apple filed in 2010. It lists Smart Menu Options among its patent applications. This mentions use of contactless transit from BART on the iPhone to pay for fares or to be reloaded with a Visa card on the phone.

But the city isn’t just looking to transit for contactless deployments. In 2007 Wells Fargo ran a two-phase employee trial using Visa payWave.  During phase one,10-15 participants were given a Nokia 6131 handset to make payments at US merchants that already accepted payWave. This was expanded in the second phase to about 50 people. Participants could also store and redeem mobile coupons and access their credit and debit accounts on the handset.

In 2008,cell operator Sprint held a four-month trial of multi-application NFC,focusing on transit ticketing and payments. During the pilot,an estimated 230 participants were given a Samsung SPH-A920M to use on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) network,to make payments at Jack in the Box using stored value payment from First Data and to get information via smart posters. Other companies involved in the trial were Vivotech,Cubic,Western Union,NXP,Acumen Transit and Booz Allen Hamilton.

And San Francisco-based Union Bank of California has deployed MasterCard PayPass on its debit cards to almost 1 million Union Bank debit cardholders.

Sport has also captured some of the contactless action. Fans of pro baseball team the San Francisco Giants have been able to use their Visa Contactless cards to make purchases at more than 100 terminals at concessions in the Giant’s stadium,AT&T Park since 2006.

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