The universal electronic payment system for bus fares will have to wait until 2019, as transport authorities continue with their plan to make travel in public transport easier for users (passengers), bus drivers and operators.

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The plan being worked on is to allow users to pay the fare electronically with their bank debit or credit card through contactless technology. This would also eliminate the need for bus drivers to keep cash on hand and spend time making change.

In Costa Rica some 4,000 buses operate over 600 routes through concessions granted to operators by the Consejo de Transporte Publico (CTP).  If an when the electronic payment system is adopted, it would be universal, in that it would be used on all buses, that is, the user would not have to buy a payment card for each route, thus, it does not matter if you travel in San Jose or Limon.

The latest electronic payment initiative that was presented on January 15 still needs to be worked out, such as who will be the service providers, the cost of fees and other details.

The plan is not new, implementing an electronic payment system has been hovering between the desks of public officials for almost two decades. The difference now is that there is an agreement between the public institutions and the chamber of bus operators and their decision to chose the Banco Central de Costa Rica (BCCR) – the Central Bank – as the payment regulator.

Some operators, however, have decided not to wait for the start of a national plan and have already implemented they own electronic payments systems, as is the case of the AutopTransportes Desamparados (ATD) using the GoPass system. That system, however, only operates on ATD routes.

The BCCR argues that, to a great extent, the electronic payment system must be open, that is, its architecture must be based on open international standards or, at least, not on a single provider technology. It also has to be universal, that they user can pay passage with the same device on different routes across the country.

The Bank is also concerned about security and transparency, as any system implemented has to be backed by a reliable operational and technological infrastructure and the (payment) providers offer the regulatory entity timely, relevant, complete and reliable information about the operation of the service.

State authorities, bus drivers and technology providers are in agreement with the BCCR’s outline.

One of the key points will be the financing of the system, since the cost of infrastructure and maintenance could fall on the fares paid by users and initially would make the service more expensive.

In Costa Rica, 100% of the costs of public transport is borne by operators through fares paid for the use of the service.

Carlos Melegatti, director of the payments division of the BCCR, said “there are technology providers that sell dreams”. The bank official emphasizing the BCCR’s experience with SINPE, the interbanking payment system it has been operating for almost 20 years, as a safe and secure payment platform.

According to Melegatti, in the country there 8.5 million cards (debit and credit) and of those at least 4 million are contactless.

“To encourage electronic payment we must give the citizens the instrument to pay electronically,” added the BCCR official.