Open payment pilot for PATCO

Cubic announced yesterday that the third major open payment deployment in the US will take place on the PATCO Speedline. In 2008, PATCO launched a new automatic fare collection system supplied by Cubic, along with a new smartcard, the FREEDOM card. For infrequent users, the system also included paper magnetic-strip tickets. Now, Cubic is adding open payment, with a twist. Unlike the open payment pilot in New York, which focused on accepting riders’ existing contactless credit and debit cards, in the initial phase of this project “Cubic’s banking partner will issue a branded reloadable prepaid card with a contactless interface that can be used for PATCO rides in addition to retail purchases where branded prepaid cards are accepted.” In the second half of the pilot program, “any bank card with a contactless chip will be accepted on the PATCO system”.

It’s important to point out that Cubic hasn’t announced who their “banking partner” is, or how the terms and conditions for the reloadable card will differ from those set by PATCO for the FREEDOM card. There’s also no mention of the fee structure; Cubic’s “banking partner” will have costs of its own to recoup, and will likely do so through activation and reload fees. These fees may be absorbed by PATCO, or may be passed on to riders (as is the case for traditional general-purpose reloadable cards). I consider it particularly curious that Cubic touts the ability to use the prepaid card at other merchants. I’m honestly not sure what the hook is here—what is the advantage over using cash, or any other credit or debit card? I’ve never really found myself hankering to (for example) pay for a purchase at Starbucks with my MetroCard or SmartLink card or SmarTrip card or Oyster card. It’s just never been an issue. On the other hand, when riding a system I use infrequently, it would be great to be able to pay my fare directly using a credit or debit card—but that’s not coming until the second phase of the PATCO pilot.

Update, April 26, 2011: Cubic appears to have registered the domains patcopilot.com and patcopilot.net in conjunction with this program, but has yet to put any content on either domain (not surprising, since as far as I know the program still hasn’t launched yet).