Scrutinizing the Claims: A Deeper Dive into Visa’s Ridership Study

4 minute read


Recently, I came across a study cited in an article on, claiming that

the ability to use tap-and-ride open-loop systems increased ridership by ONE-THIRD.

This piqued my interest, so I dug into the details, looking forward to finally getting a clear proof of measurable and solid open-loop payments advantages.

The study, titled “Reimagining Ridership: Open-loop payments and the future of urban mobility”, appears less like a traditional study and more like a survey, conducted in partnership with a global research firm, ThoughtLab, as stated in the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute (VEEI) report. The survey included 75 transit agencies and 3,000 riders globally.

Importantly, this survey was conducted in six cities: Bangkok, Brussels, Bucharest, New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Singapore. With populations varying from hundreds of thousands to several millions, the sample size of 500 respondents per city represents only a tiny fraction of the actual transit user population (the respondents to this survey represent about 0.008% of the total population of these cities). Consequently, this non-representative sample casts serious doubt over the applicability of the findings to a wider context.

Interestingly, I found no data in the study to substantiate the claim in the article of a one-third increase in ridership.

What was presented were respondents’ sentiments towards open-loop systems, unverifiable and vague.

The study mentioned:

“Nearly one third of transit riders surveyed reported that they started using public transport more often because of the ability to use open-loop payments.”

Yet, it doesn’t clarify the extent of this increased usage.

Moreover, the study claims that agencies reported increased ridership correlated with the introduction of open-loop payment systems, ranging from 4% to 12%, depending on the size and system maturity. But they did not provide a clear link between this growth and the implementation of open-loop payments.

And there’s a glaring discrepancy between the one-third (i.e., 33%) ridership increase claim and the 4% to 12% increase they reported.

The study’s timing (2022 or 2023, specific dates were not provided) is also significant, as it coincides with post-COVID-19 recovery.

So, could the reported ridership increase merely be a recovery trend rather than a result of open-loop payments?

Before concluding, it’s worth acknowledging that even the most rigorous studies have limitations, and that conducting a comprehensive, representative study is challenging. And while the document falls short as a rigorous ‘study’, it does highlight the importance of open-loop systems in the future of urban mobility, a conversation worth having.

That said, labeling this document as a ‘study’ might be overreaching. A survey based on a non-representative sample and relying on unverifiable data doesn’t provide the robust proof required to validate such substantial claims.

Moreover, while the data can provide valuable insights, it is essential to remember that correlation does not imply causation. The study’s findings suggest associations or trends, but they do not definitively prove causality.

For example, while the study finds that transit agencies that have implemented open-loop payments reported an increase in ridership, this does not conclusively prove that open-loop payments are the direct cause of the increased ridership. Other factors not included in the study could also be contributing to this increase.

It’s also crucial to understand that while the survey respondents represent a diverse range of riders and transit agencies, they do not represent all riders or transit agencies. Therefore, the conclusions should not be universally generalized without considering local or regional contexts, rider behaviors, or other specific circumstances that could influence the outcomes.

To definitively establish the impact of open-loop payments on ridership, more comprehensive research would be needed, including long-term studies and possibly experimental designs where other influencing factors are controlled.

The intent here isn’t to discredit Visa, ThoughtLab, or the survey, but to advocate for a nuanced, evidence-based understanding of open-loop fare payments. I welcome further discussions, clarifications, or inputs from Visa, ThoughtLab, and others knowledgeable in the field.

While open-loop payments undoubtedly have their place in urban mobility’s future, it’s critical to base our understanding on solid evidence, not just appealing headlines.