The electronic payments ecosystem can be overwhelming for outsiders to navigate as they try to achieve the various certifications necessary to process transactions. For software developers and their customers, getting mired in the certification process can lead to frustration and wasted time and money when all they really want to do is address the needs of their customers. Thankfully, a solution is only one call away. Consider the difficult path Reading Buses took as it sought to implement contactless payments in its vehicles.
As a small, independent, municipally owned bus line, Reading Buses isn’t like most public transport companies in the U.K. Its unique ownership structure gives the company the freedom to pursue innovations centered on providing the best level of public transportation for area residents, many of whom travel to and from nearby London.
After three years it was breath of fresh air to find a company that was committed to making contactless payments a reality. “What we experienced with Creditcall was superb communication and the ability to navigate the complexities of the banking and payment worlds and to ask the right questions and proceed in the most effective manner,” - Tony Pettitt, CFO and CIO of Reading Buses
“Our passengers are influenced by what happens in London,” explains Tony Pettitt, CFO and CIO of Reading Buses. “The use of contactless bank cards to pay for public transportation was something that was introduced a few years ago in London, creating pressure to follow their lead and offer a similar payment experience.” Being a progressive company, Reading Buses was more than willing to pursue alternative forms of payment if it was what customers wanted.
The only trouble was, at this time in 2013, there wasn’t a framework or model to follow. “No one was doing electronic payments in transportation outside of London and London, due to its size, always does things differently,” recalls Pettitt. “It’s big enough to create its own set of rules.” Compared to London’s multimillion-pound project, Reading Buses was small scale.
Reading Buses began by approaching its current ticket machine supplier, another forward-thinking company called Ticketer. Together, the two organizations decided to figure out how to make contactless payments happen. “The following three years were painful,” says Pettitt.
Since nothing existed outside of London, Pettitt says the obvious thing to do was to create a solution based on how transactions are handled in retail. The goal was to create a platform that used a PCI DSS-compliant card reader that encrypted data before the data was passed to Ticketer’s software. This keeps Ticketer outside the scope of PCI. The data would then be decrypted at the backend for settlement. With this method, Reading Buses sought the ability to develop new products with Ticketer and not have to worry about recertification since the software was outside of scope.
However, he says his organization struggled to explain its requirements to the banking industry and they struggled to explain theirs. “We looked at existing standards and weren’t sure how, or if, they applied to us,” he says. “We proceeded to create a contactless payment solution making our best guesses concerning existing standards.” They were told their solution didn’t meet the standards. “We made changes based on the recommendations of our first denial. The next person who did the testing told us it still doesn’t meet standards.” In the end, Pettit says, they presented the basic hardware four or five times.
“Because it wasn’t a traditional retail implementation, we weren’t meeting the standards,” he says. “We didn’t have the ability to refund and we didn’t have a keypad. At the time, contactless was new and there were no implementations in our field or best practices to follow.”
Reading Buses never gave up on the project. In the meantime, the world changed. Others started talking about contactless payments, and the UK Cards Association developed models that addressed the unique needs of Reading Buses.
With some guidelines now in place, Pettitt says the next step was to find a partner that could carry the project the final steps and through the accreditation process. Ticketer approached Pettitt with an option. “They told us they found a company that knew its way around the standards and could give us sound advice,” he says. “They are able to support us through testing and, overall, seem to be a company with a can-do attitude concerning challenging implementations.” That company was Creditcall.
After three years, Pettitt says it was breath of fresh air to find a company that was committed to making contactless payments a reality. “What we experienced with Creditcall was superb communication and the ability to navigate the complexities of the banking and payment worlds and to ask the right questions and proceed in the most effective manner,” he says. “We felt we knew what was happening for the first time.” Within 90 days of partnering with Creditcall, Reading Buses gained approval from the bank to go live with a pilot. Within weeks, they received approval for a full launch across the company’s 180+ vehicles. “Ticketer was trying its best to figure out a way through the accreditation process with our bank contacts, but neither understood the other’s needs,” says Pettitt. “There was no common language. Once we had Creditcall involved, they could speak the common language and progress could be made.”
The solution is composed of a Gemini 2000 Orbit SAM contactless smart card reader, which is tied to Ticketer’s ticketing software via Creditcall’s ChipDNA Direct. ChipDNA Direct is an XML-based protocol that leverages the payment transaction features of Creditcall’s payment gateway, providing an abstraction layer to a wide array of processors and acquiring banks. In Reading Buses’ case, payment processing is handled with AIB Merchant Services.
With this solution in place, each vehicle has a single device capable of reading smart cards which meet the national standard; contactless Visa and Mastercards; Apple Pay; Android Pay; and, through an optical reader, bar codes issued through the company’s mobile app.
With the implementation finally behind them, Pettitt says they’re immediately moving on to the next stage, which will give customers flexibility in how they pay for travel. “The goal is to store individual transactions until the end of day,” he explains. “At the end of day, an aggregate transaction is made. If a customer purchased individual tickets throughout a day because they didn’t plan on needing an all-day pass, the system will cap them at the all-day rate and only charge them for a day pass.”
Stories like this are very common. Organizations like Reading Buses and Ticketer don’t have the payments expertise necessary to solve the complexities of electronic processing on their own. It’s not, and shouldn’t be, what they spend time on. However, with the help of Creditcall, both companies have put payments in their rearview mirror and can resume their focus on innovation for the sake of their customers.
Reading Buses sought expertise and easy integration to implement a certified contactless payments solution for its 180+ buses