NEW FOR THURSDAY: Ocean City Buses To Begin Accepting Mobile Payments

OCEAN CITY – It is out with the old and in with the new when it comes to the town’s transit system as discount coupon books were terminated and a new mobile app is in the works to offer credit/debit card payments on the buses.

Finance Administrator Martha Bennett was excited to share with the Mayor and City Council this week a way to offer easy credit/debit payments for Ocean City’s bus service.

“For about 20 years, I have been looking for a way for us to accept electronic payments by credit card or debit card on our buses,” she said. “The barriers to this were the high cost of installing hardware and software on each bus. The time it takes to process a payment from the time a person got on the bus to swipe their card and have it approved. The processing fees because there is a flat rate for fees and our rates were so low it would have been prohibitive to do that, and the security of maintaining credit card numbers on each bus in the environment we would be responsible for.”

Bennett recently attended a seminar sponsored by the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce where a concept was introduced of pay-by-phone.

“What happens with this proposal is the phone becomes the hardware,” Bennett said. “They buy the ticket on the phone and show it to the driver … the payment is made at the bus stop or beforehand so there is no time element to wait to get on the bus and hold up service. The processing fee would be a percentage of the sale and not a flat fee so that keeps it within our budget. We don’t have to maintain the credit card numbers because they are held by the company doing the processing on the phone … we just get the money recorded each night in our bank account. I am very excited about this.”

According to Bennett, Electronics Transactions Systems (ETS) has offered to develop a pay-by-phone application, free of charge to the town, to accept bus fares and allow bus riders the convenience of credit or debit card payments, which may in turn encourage ridership.

By accepting the phone application, PMoney, as an additional form of payment, ETS has offered to charge a flat rate of .50 percent with no other per item fee. ETS will reimburse any software/hardware manufacturers to cover the cost of integrating PMoney into their products. For all other processing services ETS is prepared to extend the same rate currently in place with the application being used at Eagle’s Landing Golf Course.

“Currently, we are working with Ocean City and are offering payment processing services for some of your departments,” ETS Executive Vice President Hadi Alain Akkad said. “What we developed a few years ago is a product called PMoney. It is a pay-by-phone solution, and we have been launching it over the past three years across all of our merchant locations … within that application we have been expanding the features, so currently you can pay a friend, pay a business, pay for a pizza, pay for golf, and we have been adding a few buttons. We have added a pay for parking and a pay for transit.”

Bennett asked permission to develop the application but assured it would not go live without meeting all the needs of the transportation department.

“We would have to install signage at all the bus stops and possibly on the buses to explain how it works, and work with our marketing to get the message out … over time I think this will develop to be very easy,” she said. “Somebody may only be wearing their bathing suit but they have their phone with them.”

Councilman Brent Ashley made a motion to move forward with credit/debit card payment option for bus customers and the council voted unanimously to approve.

“I see it as something for our tourists to be very excited about and something else we can market … I see a big future for this,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.

Up next Public Works Director Hal Adkins presented the option to terminate the sale of coupon booklets for the transit system, which would result in around $50,000 potential revenue increase with a corresponding reduction in expenditures of around $3,000 for printing.

“Over the last few years, the overall sales of the coupon books have decreased in comparison to how it took off in the beginning,” Adkins said.

The current coupon book costs $15 and consists of 20 coupons. The current bus fare structure is $1 per boarding or $3 to ride all day. The discounted value is 75 cents per coupon or $2.25f for the all-day pass. One coupon is required per boarding and three coupons are required for a ride-all-day pass.

“Your users are already getting the opportunity to utilize a discount when you instituted the fare system of $3 ride-all-day or $1 per boarding,” Adkins said. “They are now able to make their own choice and in my personal opinion they are simply able to apply the discount by paying $1 upon boarding, if that is what they choose to do.”

The council voted unanimously to terminate the discount book.