How This Software Company Plans to Change Saint John’s Transit System

Saint John Transit bus. Image: sivajan, via Wikimedia Commons

SAINT JOHN– A local company is hoping their new software will help change the way people utilize the city’s transit system.

Botrow Technologies specializes in building custom, self-serve solutions for companies in a variety of industries.

The company is developing a new payment system with Saint John Transit that would allow riders more options to pay than exact change or purchasing a traditional punch monthly bus pass.

“Currently there is one way to pay if you want to ride city transit and that’s with exact coins,” said Botrow co-founder Mike Lawson. “The problem with this model is that cash is expensive to handle and it collects no sales data in the process.”

Botrow’s custom-built solution will offer three new ways for riders to pay. The first will be a reloadable monthly transit card, which can be purchased at kiosks placed at high traffic areas around the city such as malls and the university. People can purchase a number of rides for a discounted rate.

“These kiosks will give you the ability to purchase and load and reload your city transit card,” says Lawson. “It uses NFC technology, which is the same technology that’s used in your debit cards and credit cards, the ‘tap’ technology.”

City buses will have tablets installed that will receive the new kind of payment.

“It will be attached to the coin collector. That tablet will be used in order to pick how many riders you want to pay for … and you just take your monthly transit card and tap on the screen where it tells you and it will take the balance off your card,” says Lawson.

Users will also be able to pay via an app that Botrow is developing. On the app, riders will be able to create an account, link their debit or credit card and pay for rides that way. The goal is to have the ability for third parties to add money to individual accounts. Lawson says this feature will be appealing for employers.

“For example, if Irving Oil wanted to alleviate some parking congestion, they could offer each employee a certain amount of money to ride transit,” he says. “They could go on and load their apps or their cards, then the employees can go and use that.”

Finally, riders will also be able to simply pay for rides by just tapping their credit or debit card – a good option for the occasional transit rider.

“You’re not going to be deterred trying to find the exact change,” says Lawson. “By doing that, we’re going to offer the data to Saint John Transit to help them understand the ridership and they can form their business needs over that. Overall it’s going to be good for the ridership but also good for city transit.”

Saint John Transit CEO Ian MacKinnon says the city has had success partnering with local startups, citing HotSpot Parking as an example. He says what Botrow is creating is something that hasn’t been done before.

“I did a bit of an industry scan and I didn’t find that type of solutions anywhere. What’s appealing to me is that they’re here in Saint John and it’s a product that could be utilized across transit industries everywhere,” says MacKinnon. “I came out of a startup industry and I know how important it is to find partners in the business to work with.”

He says implementing a digital payment system would allow Saint John Transit to collect data on ridership, which could give insight on how to reduce operational costs.

“The most accurate source for transit anywhere is where you pay. That would be a very positive offshoot of the technology,” says Mackinnon. “To have and collect that type of data, to share it and use it in your business process for the design of the transit system … We can quickly eyeball operational savings as a result of this product coming to fruition.”

Botrow is currently in the development stage, which is being helped by $25,000 the company recently received from Enterprise Saint John’s Innovation Challenge.

“What the plan is if all goes well by next spring, we’ll have a full prototype made up,” says Lawson.

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