Editor's Choice Europe Paytech

Bridge: Getting Serious About Financial Innovation in Public Transport

When travellers are eventually able to ease back into the daily commute, digitisation of payments in transport will grow – and the transport industry needs to be ready and agile 

Brian Coburn is the CEO of Scottish ‘payments orchestration’ startup, Bridge. Brian devised Bridge in response to seeing the challenges faced by large organisations in the race to digitise their businesses; to help them innovate at speed.

Here he shares his thoughts about financial innovation in public transport.

Brian Coburn, CEO Bridge

A commute can be exhausting at the best of times (and we’re not in the best of times). Multiple payment points and ticketing options make it even more so. With cashless and contactless travel key factors in making people feel safer on public transport post-pandemic, travel operators are going to need payment systems to be 100% dependable at all times. Research last year from Visa found that half (49%) of UK commuters saw the introduction of contactless payments as the single most significant improvement to their overall public transport experience. A seamless transaction matters a lot to travellers. And a cashless one is going to matter even more.

British multinational transport group FirstGroup has embraced a strategy to increase cashless and contactless travel. Now its online ticket channels are live 24 hours a day, in a pre-pandemic scenario, taking up to £1m in ticket and travel pass sales daily. Control over this part of the customer journey is essential for a rich customer experience. First Group have integrated and deployed BRIDGE’s technology to catch any disruptions and ensure they don’t slow down the customer payment experience – essential at a time when people are wary about queues and increased time in crowded places.

Payment orchestration is a single, simple integration operating at the heart of a resilient and flexible payments system, enabling merchants to manage a variety of different payment service providers, consolidate internal reporting, build resilience and test new payment innovations and opportunities at speed, responding in an agile way to consumer trends.

A payment orchestration platform gives FirstGroup greater control in managing its digital payment transactions. In fact, through digital payments, the company has been able to reduce the cost of handling cash across the business and has also been able to capture valuable data insights from the payment process itself. It’s no surprise that the technology has been integrated across the group’s online ticketing for UK bus travel, with plans to include mobile app channel and rail ticketing systems.

Choice is particularly important to travellers right now. During the pandemic, consumers have been able to test-drive a range of convenient payment mechanisms, from mobile wallets to order-ahead apps as they adapt to the new landscape. They’ll expect no less from their travel experience when they eventually get back to the daily routine.

Fintech innovation is also a major player in the fight towards sustainable transport. Accessible means of payment is often cited as a key deterrent to public transport use. The rise of digital ticketing, payments and apps has transformed how users interact with public transport and future usage and adoption is dependent on digital connectivity and ease of integration. At the provider end, easy contactless payments mean faster boarding times, reduced cash handling and the potential for greater connectivity with other travel providers.

Resilience and control across the digital payment mechanism is therefore essential to delivering a seamless transport service. Operating without disruption requires the ability to adapt quickly to changing consumer circumstance, need and preference.

Again, this is where a payment orchestration layer can give the provider greater control over payment procedures, without being locked into complex payment structures.

Payment orchestration also offers real-time access to payment data, so you can ensure the transaction is successful, regardless of what is happening behind the scenes. Any issues can be dealt with efficiently, unbeknownst to the customer, ensuring a smoother journey with fewer holdups.

In a high-transaction environment (in happier times, each day there are around 69,000 payments made using contactless on London buses) we must do everything we can to reduce crowding and stress. There should be the confidence that every single transaction will complete successfully, no matter what is taking place away from the customer’s eyes. So it’s time for providers to drive the next wave of financial innovation in their public transport offerings and providing seamless, resilient, flexible payments looks like a good place to start.


  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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