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Overview

Public transportation provides 11 billion trips across America every year. Half of these trips are in smaller cities, where cost-efficient monthly passes can only be purchased at central stations. As a result, low income public transportation riders have limited access to the transit passes they need the most. Token Transit allows public transit agencies to distribute their transit passes through the Token Transit app, so riders are able to purchase any type of pass using a credit, debit, or prepaid debit card right from their phone.

Their Story

Morgan Conbere had been working at Google for four and half years, commuting to and from work daily on the glossy, window-tinted, high-speed-network-connected Google shuttle bus. All that time on the road got Conbere and his co-founders thinking: Why hasn’t the relatively archaic public transit system found a way to use technology to upgrade riders’ experiences? “Here I was riding the Google bus an hour and a half each way to an office park in the suburbs,” says Conbere. “I wanted to do something that impacted the city and community I was living in.”

And it was no small undertaking Conbere had in mind. Public transportation accounts for 11 billions trips across the U.S. each year, with many of those trips happening in smaller U.S. cities where access to cost-efficient monthly passes is restricted to central stations. While tech giants like Uber and Lyft have built sleek solutions that make paying for a hired car easy, technology had yet to come up with a similar fix for those millions of people riding the bus each day. “We wanted to bring that really nice Lyft and Uber experience to public transit,” says Conbere.

In 2015, Conbere left Google to work on his idea full-time. To start, he and his co-founders reached out to public transit offices around the country and spoke with countless public transit riders. “We learned that a third of low-income families don’t have a car or access to a vehicle,” says Conbere. “These are the people most in need of transit to get to work and to school. Addressing that challenge leads to so many economic benefits for the community.”

The solution he and his co-founders – Zachary Browne, Samuel Daly, and Ekaterina Kuznetsova – came up with was Token Transit, an app that enables traditionally underbanked users to purchase transit passes through their mobile phones using credit, debit or prepaid cards. “This is a category of people who are greatly underserved,” says Conbere. “We are providing access to purchase something they otherwise had a challenge getting their hands on.”

At the end of 2016, Token Transit began working with its first transit community in Reno, Nevada. Less than 10 percent of riders there used credit cards to pay for transportation, Conbere and his team quickly learned, with 90 percent instead using prepaid debit cards or cash. What’s more, riders in Reno could only purchase discounted weekly bus passes at the downtown transit station, which for many meant commuting an hour each way just to buy a pass. Token Transit aimed to eliminate that travel altogether by offering an easy-to-use mobile alternative.

Conbere and his team also quickly realized that the process of distributing passes to riders is difficult for transit agencies – and that riders nearly universally would prefer to access distributed passes on their phones. And while some solutions see mobile ticketing merely as a tool to pay with a credit card, the pain of pass distribution remains the real reason many employers don’t participate in transit pass programs. Getting discounted passes in the hands of people who need them most – including seniors, the disabled, veterans, and lowincome households – was a major challenge the Token Transit team knew they needed to address. As a result, Token Transit began connecting with social services, consumer advocacy groups, and city managers and planners to figure out how to reach the people most in need of this kind of service.

Riders are able to purchase transit passes through the app using prepaid cards rather than simply credit cards. They are also able to take advantage of a fare-capping feature that helps low-income riders meet the upfront cost of purchasing a transit pass when they don’t have all the liquid cash needed in-hand. For example, while a monthly bus pass in Reno costs $65 and saves regular riders up to 50 percent of the cost of monthly transportation, for many low-income consumers, making that $65 payment at the start of each month just isn’t possible.

“Most low-income consumers that want to save money on transit don’t have that $65 up front,” says Conbere. “With Token Transit, you can buy $2 passes every time you ride the bus, but once you hit that $65 cap, the rest of your rides that month are free.”

Today Token Transit operates in 18 transit agencies around the country, with 30 additional contracts in the works as part of their expansion plan. “We wanted to treat it like a software startup rather than a government agency,” says Conbere.

Working with CFSI as part of its 2017 FinLab cohort has given Token Transit access to partners, researchers, and data around the very population most in need of Token Transit services. “Our app is offering services to the exact demographic CFSI is trying to work with,” says Conbere.

What They Do

Key People

Morgan Conbere

co-Founder & CEO

Ekaterina Kuznetsova

Co-Founder & CTO

Location

San Francisco, CA

2017 Challenge Winner
Learn about the challenge

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