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MST Project Paves the Way for Contactless Fare Payment

MST is the first transit agency in California to test a contactless, fee-free payment card that may someday work on public transportation systems across the state.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Visa and other partners are behind the initiative, called the California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP). Organizers hope to create a market for open-loop bank cards to allow passengers to board any bus, train or light rail car in any California community.

“Customers don’t need three different cards to buy coffee in San Francisco, San Diego and Monterey, so why should they need three different payment methods to ride transit in those three cities? With this new model, anyone holding a contactless bank card or payment-enabled device could conceivably purchase transit wherever they are,” says MST General Manager and CEO Carl Sedoryk.

As it makes transit more user-friendly, the tool could also benefit individuals who lack access to bank cards and bank accounts. Project leaders are studying the feasibility of loading the cards with rental vouchers, food assistance and other funding for low-income households.

“The long-term vision, if this gets broadly accepted, is that you could use the same card to purchase your transit tickets and your daily necessities. The possibilities are exciting,” says Sedoryk.

“The long-term vision, if this gets broadly accepted, is that you could use the same card to purchase your transit tickets and your daily necessities. The possibilities are exciting.”

MST maintenance teams installed trial ticket validators in the fall, and passengers began using their contactless cards or payment-enabled devices this winter. As the project’s demonstration partner, MST will assess usage and suggest potential improvements as organizers determine how to best scale the program.

Caltrans selected MST for the Cal-ITP demonstration because of the agency’s sizable service area, diverse passenger base and willingness to embrace innovation.

“MST has been at the forefront of several pioneering initiatives, from converting locally grown mustard seed into biodiesel, to implementing a first-of-its-kind inductive charging station on the Monterey Trolley route,” says Sedoryk. “We’ve never been afraid to try something new, or outside of the mainstream, to better serve our community.”