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Australian Bus Commuters Can Soon Pay Fares With Bitcoin

(@southtopia) | Published on January 23, 2014 at 19:42 BST

A team of mobile developers in Canberra, Australia, is aiming to be the first in the world to allow public transit users to pay for rides in bitcoin via its MyBus 2.0 app.

MyBus 2.0 is a timetable and route-planner app on Canberra’s extensive bus network ACTION, which is also the city’s primary public transit system. Developers Imagine Team Solutions announced the app now has more than 50,000 active users.

To celebrate that milestone, it turned its attention to ACTION’s prepaid fare smartcard system, MyWay. MyWay automatically deducts the correct fare when a passenger touches the card against a reader upon entering and exiting the bus.

Bitcoin fans

Imagine Team’s Zakaria Bouguettaya said the developers are “strong supporters” of bitcoin and would love to be the first in the world to offer it as a public transit payment solution. They have already developed a similar payment app for person-to-person transactions on iOS, and are putting the finishing touches to an Android version.

“I personally love what bitcoin is all about, and so we tried to work backwards from use-cases that weren’t about hedging and speculation,” he said.

“I catch buses as a primary method of travel, so we naturally went in that direction. We also saw a good fit into another app (QuicklyPay.it) we recently launched, where you can pay people in social situations (lunch, movie tickets, concerts, etc). Currently we use credit cards, but we’ve pushed out an update where you can pay someone using your bitcoins, and the recipients get cash.”

Currently, customers can add value to ACTION’s MyWay cards online with a credit card, via bank direct debit, over the telephone or in person at selected shopfronts.

Bouguettaya described the bitcoin integration in MyBus app and QuicklyPay.it as using a private wallet to accept incoming bitcoins, and then processing transactions almost immediately (or within 10 minutes) on the other end using a proprietary system Imagine Team built.

Should the bitcoin option become popular, it will probably turn to a more established payment processor like Australia’s CoinJar.

Government town

Similar in many ways to Washington, DC (on which it was partly modeled), Canberra is a purpose-built national capital in its own non-state territory (the ACT) with a disproportionately large number of federal government employees compared to other cities in the country.

When Imagine Team posted its bitcoin intentions yesterday on a local internet forum, RiotACT, the response from other residents was generally cynical and negative.

The developers responded by citing high credit card fees paid by government-owned ACTION as the best reason to use bitcoin, and described price volatility problems as “overhyped”.

“Perhaps most obviously, there is no risk, only benefit,” they wrote.

“If you use bitcoin to recharge your MyWay card, who loses? It may not be an ideal currency, but we’re talking about recharging a MyWay card, not using it ubiquitously for everything ever. At the very least, it’s another way to recharge your MyWay card.”

ACTION bus image via Wikimedia Commons

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