Electronics and Semiconductors

How SaaS is creating efficient public transit

21 July 2022
The Umo Pass system reduces user friction and improves customer service overall. Source: Cubic Transport Systems

Transit agencies in small and medium-sized cities hope that funds from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will help them to deploy the kinds of technologies that larger metros have deployed.

Meeting the evolving needs of public transit is not an easy job. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a strong call to action to make transit technologies touchless. Smaller budgets, coupled with uncertainty about return-to-work, pushed leading transit technology providers to work together with local agencies in new ways.

In response to the requirements that came during the pandemic, public transit agencies have been forced to rethink how they provide and bill for their services. Riders need a contactless way to pay on the go and track schedules and other info. And transit agencies need real-time data ridership and maintenance, so they can make the best use of their vehicles and resources.

Tim McManus, adjunct associate professor at Columbia University and a former advisor at McKinsey said his role at the company was to help governments conceptualize large-scale infrastructure and then bring it to life.

“Our industry has never seen the level of investment in new technology startups supporting the transportation and smart city markets as currently existing from private equity, VC, corporate and personal investors,” McManus said. “The agencies and private sector companies that are adopting comprehensive strategies around Innovation and Digitalization are realizing the benefits for themselves.”

For example, within the Covid Research Demonstration Grant Program, as administered by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration, 37 grants were awarded, each up to $600,000. These were focused on a range of technologies, including contactless fare collection, passenger demand modeling, mobile applications, real-time passenger information and cleaning systems to make their systems more competitive. Experts are now expecting to see a similar focus from those agencies that are tasked with spending IIJA funds.

A digital platform technology, when combined with software-as-a-service (SaaS), allows agencies with the system data and agility to meet their customers’ needs and issue upgrades, features or fixed where needed most.

Building a public transit SaaS

This has emerged as a top priority for these smaller agencies, and also for the private sector providers of transit solutions, like Cubic Transport Systems (CTS), who make technologies available to those agencies.

Contactless payment options are now an expectation of transit riders, for both safety and convenience reasons. Source: Cubic Transport SystemsContactless payment options are now an expectation of transit riders, for both safety and convenience reasons. Source: Cubic Transport Systems

According to Boris Karsch, COO at Cubic, “We’re beginning to see many cities transitioning from deploying technology using traditional system integration approaches to the newer SaaS models. SaaS has long been adopted by the private sector, and the good news is that SaaS is transforming the speed of innovation and reducing the cost of technology in urban mobility management applications.”

With decades of experience in this field, Karsch said two new waves are sweeping through mass transit agencies around the world:

  • Mobility on Demand (MOD), as defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is a concept based on a simple principle: transportation is a commodity where different modes have different economic values. These are distinguishable in terms of cost, journey time, wait time, number of connections, convenience, and other attributes.
  • Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is a combination of public and private transportation services within a given regional environment. It provides holistic and people-centered travel options. The goal is to enable end-to-end journeys paid for by the user, as a single charge.

“Given the current economic climate and continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect to see these modernization efforts continue to transform the way users interact with transit systems around the globe in 2022,” Karsch said.

CTS decided to use their decades of experience implementing successful fare collection solutions for megacities like New York, Chicago, LA, and London, to invest in new platform technology branded Umo. Umo addresses these emerging needs through a suite of cloud-based products that enables riders to conveniently pay fares and plan trips across public and private modes, earn rewards for riding public transit and access real-time information to optimize their mobility experience. The introduction of Umo and its UmoPass and UmoPay platforms opens the door for riders to use contactless prepaid fare products as well as use contactless open payment technologies such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and bank issued contactless credit and debit cards.

There are two notable, real-world examples that highlight how agencies are now using platform technology to increase ridership in their communities.

A passenger boards a mass transit system using the software as a service payment option. Source: Cubic Transport Systems A passenger boards a mass transit system using the software as a service payment option. Source: Cubic Transport Systems

BC transit

BC Transit is the provincial Crown corporation responsible for coordinating the delivery of public transit services for more than 50 million customers in all areas outside of Metro Vancouver. With UmoPass, BC Transit properties are now able to offer pre-paid stored value and pass products so that riders can easily purchase and pay via mobile phone, web or retail and board simply by scanning their phone or tapping their card.

The mobile app includes an integrated journey planner that allows users to plan their trips inclusive of links between transit and connecting services as well as provide service alerts, service arrival notices and other convenience features. This migration to contactless payments offers greater convenience to riders while improving safety and security by reduced reliance on cash, automated means of fare purchase and decreased driver interaction following the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project expands CTS’s existing footprint in the Province of British Columbia outward from Metro Vancouver, which is serviced by Cubic’s existing customer TransLink into small towns and adjacent urban centers. This enables greater interoperability and mobility linkages between British Columbia’s principal public transit agencies — BC Transit and TransLink — through a common fare payment vendor.

PATH rail

The Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail system connects New York and New Jersey. As part of the contract with Cubic, they provide PATH with a fare payment back office to centralize automated fare collection on conventional public transport modes. The back-office technology offers passengers a single account to manage all of their travel needs, transforming PATH into an account-based system similar to those utilized in Chicago, Brisbane, Australia, and more.

These flexible innovative features ultimately enable PATH to more seamlessly integrate the system with mobility services such as bike share, scooter hire and tolling in the future. The system will be fully deployed by early 2024 and will replace PATH’s legacy SmartLink payment system.

“PATH is continually searching for innovative ways to enhance the travel experience for all of our riders,” said PATH director Clarelle DeGraffe. “With this new system from Cubic Transport Systems, we are adopting the most current and effective technology to advance that goal and make for a more seamless experience at the turnstile.”


Adjusting for different ridership patterns requires more integration of on-demand services and privately operated micro-mobility modes. That’s one reason why it’s so essential to work diligently to provide transit agencies of all sizes with technology that is responsive to these challenges. The future consists of SaaS models for more flexible updates, more reliable applications, ease-of-integration and cost savings for both the end user and city.

Adopting cutting-edge transit and commuter services — and especially MaaS and MoD — encourages more people to take public transit. Surveys in cities that have adopted MaaS or MoD indicate that it’s experienced by transit riders and commuters as an inexpensive, convenient option (see footnote below). It has the effect, therefore, of reducing congestion on the roads. It’s perhaps even appropriate to call this one a “win-win-win” — a win for the city, a win for the public transport agency and, more importantly, it’s a win for the traveling public.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com

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