Western Minnesota Contactless Payment Project

Principal Investigator(s):

Alireza Khani, Associate Professor, Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering


  • Galen Ryan, Research Professional, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Project summary:

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly enhanced the need for contactless payment options to address rider safety concerns and support transit agency financial sustainability. While many Greater Minnesota agencies implemented protective measures like plexiglass shields between drivers and passengers, the heavy reliance on cash, fare booklet, and token-based fare collection forced the vast majority of agencies to forgo fare collection after the pandemic started. Between March and August 2020, Greater Minnesota transit revenue dropped 76 percent due to a combination of lower ridership and reduced fare collection. Without some form of contactless payment, these agencies face a challenge to rebound rider revenue while COVID-19 outbreaks remain a risk.

While recent surveys of urban transit riders found strong interest in contactless payment as a technology to boost the likelihood of using transit after COVID-19 lockdowns, there has not been any research published to date that indicates how such technology can influence the willingness of rural communities to return to transit.

This project has five overarching objectives. To enhance rural public transit rider and driver safety and public confidence in these systems during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team will:

  • a) Compare the operational benefits and drawbacks of contactless payment technologies for transit systems; and
  • b) Understand the impact of contactless payment systems and trip planning platforms on the safety of rural public transit passengers and riders during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • c) Identify what impact contactless payment technologies will have on boosting public confidence in rural public transit systems.
  • d) Deploy and test the two leading contactless payment technologies followed by a trip-planning application across participating rural public transit systems in western Minnesota; and
  • e) Implement a series of surveys to transit riders and the general public to gauge perceptions of public transit agencies and contactless payment solutions before and after deployment of the technology.

Project details: