Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Why American Transit Systems Need to Adopt This Donation Platform

November 19, 2014
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Why American Transit Systems Need to Adopt This Donation Platform
The Common Pence system was designed for London's Oyster card, but there are hopes to expand to other transportation systems. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
It puts leftover fares into charities' coffers.

No matter where you go, using public transportation often results in a pocketful of transit cards loaded with small amounts of leftover money. There’s simply nothing you can do, except pass along the extra fare to a friend or save for the next time you’re in town.

But a 22-year-old Oxford University graduate has a bright idea for that big problem.

Determined to find a recipient for the extra fare other than transportation authorities, Zander Whitehurst designed Common Pence, a system that allows commuters to tap their cards against a radio-frequency identification (RFID) reader to donate the remaining cash to charity. Though it’s designed for London’s Oyster Card, Whitehurst is hoping to bring the idea elsewhere — an idea that transit companies in the U.S. should latch onto immediately.

In Europe, holding the Oyster Card against the panel automatically transmits 50 pence and commuters can drain the remaining balance completely by continuing to press it against the system. The system also allows users to track the funding online, see the progress and measure their impact, according to the site.

While not all transit cards come equipped with RFID technology, Whitehurst is also aiming to expand the concept to bus passes and contactless credit cards, which are now available for use in London’s transit system. Whitehurst tells Fast Company he’s been talking to London’s transit authority, Transport for London (TfL), regarding the idea.

Whitehurst has also designed a hand-held version of the device for fundraisers to use while trying to raise money on the street. Instead of hassling people with writing down emails, the hand-held panel eases the process.

“Face to face, people try to get you to send an email just to donate £3, and it’s such a hassle for most people,” he says. “The other free-hanging panels can exist almost anywhere in the urban environment. I’m trying to encourage local charities to be displayed on the panels so people can give back and invest in their own communities.”

The idea is to one day help charities simplify fundraising and help commuters do something with leftover fare cards by being able to use a smartphone app, credit card or fare card at one of any of Common Pence’s panels throughout the world.

“It’s trying to innovate donation to the point where we’re not using physical spare change,” he says.

Our guess is that this is an idea that the Salvation Army would love.

MORE: Public Transportation Is Getting a Major Makeover

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