Tap Tap Cap: A Q&A about Contactless Transit with Lothian Buses

By Steven Chambers, Lothian's Commercial Proj. Man.

In July, Lothian bus service launched contactless fares across their entire bus fleet serving the greater Edinburgh area.  Since then, they have seen consumers use “tap to pay” for more than a million journeys. We asked Steven Chambers, Lothian’s Commercial Projects Manager, to tell us a little about why they make the move to contactless and what they thought of the process.


1) How big is Edinburgh? And what kind of transportation challenges are unique to smaller cities?

Edinburgh has a population of just under half a million. It’s a compact, historical city with a demanding geography.

It’s also an international destination city at the heart of Scotland’s visitor market, and so balancing the transport needs of both residents and visitors across such a compact space provides new challenges for us on an almost daily basis.


2) Why did you decide that contactless transit was the way to go? Were there any challenges when you made this decision?

Almost all of the pain in payment for transport is in the ticketing – how do we get a secure and fast product in the hands of our customers which is both easily validated and understood?

Using the ticket they already have in their purses and wallets was the obvious solution. Adding account-based fare capping and you have the perfect customer proposition.

The only political challenges we’ve faced with our contactless implementation have been around supporting families and children who wish to pay for travel using contactless, but we’re working with our technology partners and payment partner, Visa, to develop solutions for those use cases.


3) What kind of benefits did you think contactless would provide for your regular customers and tourists? 

The greatest benefit for our customers is that it requires little or no knowledge of our fares and network, unlike traditional ticketing. You simply travel, we’ll charge you the best fare for the journeys you’ve made so you can get on with your day.


4) What was your technology implementation experience like? How easy was it to work with suppliers?

We have a long-established working relationship with our ticketing suppliers, Flowbird, who developed this with us.

Flowbird took care of all of the technical integration, and Visa’s assistance here was particularly valuable. This allowed us to focus on the “on the ground” experience for our drivers and our customers. It was a lot of work for all involved, but we’re really pleased with the results.


5) When the time came to launch, what was your approach to rolling this out to your customers? 

We launched just before the world famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, when the city’s population more than doubles!

Our network, and the kind of journeys our customers make across it, is such that we couldn’t roll this out in stages, so after a brief single route pilot, we launched with a big bang across all 600+ of our city buses.

We focused on the key-customer education messages rather than promotion during the initial month or two.


6) How has the uptake been since launch in August July? What kinds of results are you seeing? 

We’ve been blown away by the take up – we’ve gone from a standing start to having processed our two millionth tap on the two month anniversary of our launch, which is quite something given that we’re yet to significantly promote it.


7) Do your drivers and other people in your organisation like the move to contactless? What kind of impact do you think this is going to make on your operating costs?

We undertook some small focus groups with driving staff prior to go live which highlighted there was quite a large degree of uncertainty, perhaps even fear, which accompanies the introduction of any new technology.

Those concerns completely disappeared once our drivers realised how simple and straightforward our implementation was – they have enthusiastically welcomed the move to contactless which has made their lives a little easier.

We’re expecting some significant gains in boarding speeds and looking forward to a corresponding decrease in our overall costs from cash collection and processing.


8) What were your learnings? What would you advise other cities of a similar size to Edinburgh?

I would say that it’s important not to underestimate the appetite for contactless travel – from your existing customers who might migrate from other products or payment methods, as well as from those people who aren’t yet your customers, but will be if contactless is available.

It’s how we pay for everything else so of course it’s going to take off in transport. If it isn’t yet part of your ticketing strategy, it needs to be.


9) What’s next for Lothian? How are you planning to build on this success?

We’re still riding high on the buzz from our ever-climbing numbers post launch, and have a few under-the-hood improvements to deliver yet, but once this has matured into BAU, we need to start developing incentives and working with our partners on promotions and initiatives to maximise take-up.

Tag: Digital commerce