Idea: Using Facial Recognition as Mass Transit Payment Method

If it’s one thing that humans love it’s simplicity. The easier you make it for customers to give you money the more likely they are to buy your products and services. Public transit fails this simple rule. Tickets, transfers, passes, expirations, exact change, closed platforms, turn stiles, all make for a terrible user experience. So here’s my idea, use facial recognition as a speedy payment and verification system for mass transit like subways and trams.

Short Version of how it works:

  • Platforms are open and easily accessible by everyone, no turn stiles, no barriers, lots of entrances and exits.
  • There are facial recognition cameras in the trains, platforms, and payment machines.
  • Your face is connected to your transit account.
  • You pay for your ride by simply getting on the train, the cameras inside the train and on the platform can see you get on, and they deduct the fare from your account by recognizing your face.
  • If someone gets on the train who didn’t pay the cameras know who they are and they alert the person or security.
  • If you’re a new rider and don’t have any money in your account, you can stand in front of the payment machine on the platform and it will show your face and display “$0.00 balance”. You can then add more money in your transit account by depositing bills or change into the machine or you can transfer money or gift a ride to family or friends standing next to you.
  • You can check your balance real quick by just going in front of the payment machine, it will display your face and your balance, and then you can walk off and your information will be cleared from the screen.
  • No more tickets, transfers, paper cards, passes, or anything that you can loose. Just stand in front of the payment machine, put in a $20 to replenish your account and you’re good for the rest of the week. Just walk on and off the trains. Every now and then jump in front of the payment machine and check your balance.

Long Version of how it works:

  • Payment machines consisting of facial recognition cameras which may be 3D, infrared, or other highly accurate cameras, visual displays (that may also be touch screen) for showing account information, and bill/change acceptors to collect money, are located on the platform or station.
  • Similar facial recognition cameras are located on board the train/tram/bus/vehicles either on or above the doors of the vehicle, anywhere inside the vehicle, anywhere on the platform, or a mixed combination.
  • The payment machines, cameras, and computer system connecting the cameras inside the vehicles or on platforms, are online through a wired or wireless secure internet or intranet connection to the facial recognition software and a central database of faces, accounts, balances, and other rider data.
  • Each rider’s facial measurements, height, skin color and/or other analytics are associated with their transit account which is accessed using these measurements.
  • Facial recognition software either on or off site (inside the trams and payment machines or offsite) is used to analyze and recognize a rider’s face.
  • The cameras in the payment machines, platforms, and vehicles can analyse a rider’s face on site then send those measurements to a computer system located offsite that compares them with measurements in the central database and connects that face to it’s account OR they can directly send the images of a rider offsite to another computer system to have them analyzed, measured, and compared to those in the central database and connect that face to it’s account.
  • Riders simply step up to the payment machine on the platform which finds their account through the methods described above, and displays their face and remaining account balance on the display in front of them.
  • The rider can then feed money into the bill acceptor/change collector, making a deposit that adds to their account, or gift some of their balance, or a ride, to a friend or family member standing next to them (in view of the facial recognition cameras) by pressing on screen buttons (if touch screen display is used) or buttons on the machine itself and approving or confirming the transfer/gift.
  • When the subway/tram/bus/light rail vehicle shows up riders begin entering the car and the cameras on the platform or vehicle scan faces of riders entering and exiting the vehicle, connect those faces to their accounts by comparing them to the database using the facial recogntion and other software, and deduct the right amount of fare from a rider’s account as they’re boarding or exiting the vehicles (or even the platforms). Fares can be deducted before or after a rider exits the vehicle or the platform itself.
  • The system can analyse and track where a specific rider gets on and gets off and deduct a larger or smaller amount of fare from their account depending on how far they traveled if fares are calculated by distance by the operator.
  • Current or new riders who try to board the vehicle (or the platform) with insufficient funds will hear an audible sound as they enter, or their picture will show on a nearby display if the vehicle (or platform) is equiped with one, or security can be alerted, or a combination of both.
  • The transit company can deal with non-payers and glitches, in different ways. Fare collectors/security on the vehicle or platforms can be shown the offending rider’s picture and what vehicle the rider is in and security can ask the offending rider to check their balance or issue them a citation.

As you can see, the whole goal of facial recognition payment isn’t necessarily to improve payment verification, it’s a method to improve payment for the rider. Instead of: show up, buy tickets, carry pass on you, worry about expirations, go through a maze of turnstiles to get to the platform, get on, ride, get off, go through another labyrinth just to exit the station; You just show up, get on, ride, get off. If you’re worried your account is low just step in front of a payment machine to check your balance without pressing anything, add a dollar or two, get on and ride.

Public transit stations should NOT look like a maximum security prisons.

Riders are people, not cattle. And the less demeaning, and more simple public transit is the more it will get used.

* payment machines by Arnold Reinhold
* tram picture by Citaro G
* turnstile picture from


  1. Xtralia says:

    Gday Chris- interesting ideas. This is very Person of Interest. I am a layperson but my first thought was wondering how things like make-up and changing lighting would affect recognition accuracy. I know how different I can look from day to day. Anyhow like your forward thinking. Aren’t you worried about your ideas being ripped off?
    Cheers, Stella – Sydney, Australia.

    • Gday mate. I keep the really good ideas that I plan to work on to myself. This particular idea isn’t something I want to ever or can ever work on. I don’t have the expertise, money, or desire, to get into facial recognition, or the money it takes to acquire companies already in that space. I purposely published this so it could go into public domain and other’s cannot patent it. Also a lot of good ideas that are patented end up not making money, and a lot of ideas that are not patented end up making a lot of money despite competitors. So I was fine with letting this one go.

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