PalmPass Ushers in Digital Age for Canadian Transit Systems

The first and only time I’ve ever gone to Hong Kong was 12 years ago. Even back then, citizens were very friendly and familiar with the early version of the Octopus card, which was then already capable of paying for bus fares and shopping at local retailers. The PRESTO card is slowly ushering in a more convenient way to handle fares in Ontario. Our transit systems are still comparatively way behind the ones across the world.

It’s great to hear that the Canadian transit systems are starting to catch up. To speed up the process, we should consider skipping technologies, and being a bit more adaptive and aggressive in our advances. For example: instead of using a card, why not use a cell phone? There is difficulty in getting organizations to skip technologies though, as Bryn Jones points out.

Entrepreneurs and Western University students Bryn Jones, along with Sajjad Haiderali and Jennifer Son, form PalmPass. The original idea struck Jones when he was running late for an exam, and was ruffling through his backpack to try to find his bus pass. He figured there had to be a better way to do this.

Through some surveys, one conducted by themselves and the other conducted by the IBI Group for the London Transit Commission, as well as through conversations with the London Transit Commission and Western University’s Student Council, PalmPass was careful to test their idea and make sure that there was a demand for it before getting cracking on their project.

Their solution is an app that is a visual representation of a bus pass, right on each user’s phone. Bus drivers on the London Transit Commission (and the Toronto Transit Commission) already are confirming passes with their eyes at the moment, so there won’t need to be much retraining. However, in order to prevent fakes and duplicates, PalmPass will have to figure out a method to prove the difference between authentic passes and fakes. One idea is to constantly refresh their pass, so the authenticity proofs (i.e. on the corner of the digital bus pass) change. This will definitely be difficult for bootleggers to replicate live.

PalmPass’ challenges are also its advantages: this authentication solution will be saving the transit commissions a ton of money, as there are people getting away with fake bus passes now, and printing passes can also be costly on a large scale. Also, as they’re dealing with a somewhat bureaucratic organization, they have a lot of stakeholders to consider for each decision. Once they do manage to get past this barrier, though, it will be a matter of simply staying ahead of the competition by continuing to save the transit systems money and keeping up with new developments.

PalmPass has already garnered support from Western University, as well as Mayor Joe Fontana’s approval. They are currently collaborating with the London Transit Commission. Their idea has gotten them to the finalist stage of the Venture London business competition. Hopefully, initiatives like PalmPass and PRESTO continue to sprout up and bring Canada’s transit system to the digital age.