Toll Insight spoke with Kevin Condon, CEO/Founder at PayByCar.
1. How was PayByCar founded, and what is the problem you are trying to solve?
The predecessor product to PayByCar was Efficient Vehicle Assessor (EVA), a method of identifying specific vehicles at the pump to enable a variable gas tax based on characteristics of a specific vehicle, such as fuel efficiency. The original idea was to leverage the significant price sensitivity consumers have at the pump to create compelling incentives and accelerate the adoption of fuel-efficient vehicles. And while the need is still there and this green solution is still a “killer application”, a “gas tax” solution is not currently a fundable business model.
But the same idea – identifying a specific vehicle at the point of sale – has more immediate value as a way of stripping most of the friction from in-vehicle payments by leveraging existing technology – from toll transponders for vehicle ID, to SMS text apps already used by nearly all consumers, to retailer point-of-sale and pump controller systems, and, of course, the consumer’s preferred payment method (debit, credit, wallet, etc.). That pivot resulted in the launch of PayByCar.
Leveraging the toll transponder makes sense simply because any new consumer solution is better if it leverages existing consumer behavior. And electronic toll collection is the first example of a frictionless in-vehicle payment user experience. Paying by text is a newer experience for consumers, but it is catching on fast.
Overall, the other problem we are trying to solve (aside from the friction in any in-vehicle transaction) is that in-vehicle payments are very fragmented. Many retailers have a proprietary loyalty app. What works at one fuel retailer will not work at a competitive retailer, let alone in fast-food drive-thru, parking garages, car washes, etc. From the consumer’s point of view, it is overwhelming. And there is a great deal of “app fatigue” with consumers, who are more and more reluctant to downloading yet another app on their phone. It gets confusing, takes up space on the phone, and ends up being a cluttered experience in its own way.
The value of PayByCar at scale is that our solution is, first of all, app-less. And it can become universal for the consumer as more retailers adopt it.
2. Tell us more about the product and intended customer experience.
PayByCarTM is an opt-in program for consumers. Signing up is very basic – it requires a toll transponder number (or our own 6C RFID tags for non-toll regions), a smartphone (for pay-by-text payment), and a payment method on file. Again, no app download is required.
Once signed up, when consumers arrive at a participating retailer, our readers recognize the vehicle upon arrival. A simple text confirms (a second authentication) that the customer is “paying by text” through PayByCar and, in the case of fuel, customers text back the pump number. The pump is activated as if the consumer had swiped or inserted a payment card, except with PayByCar, there is no card use, no interaction with the pump keypad at all. No answering “Is this a credit or debit?” and no entering a PIN or zip code. No entering loyalty reward card numbers. After the consumer finishes fueling, the return of the nozzle to the cradle instantly triggers a concluding text with the e-receipt. No answering “do you want a receipt”. No waiting for a paper receipt to print (or not). And, depending on the retailer, perhaps an offer for a discount off a preferred product in the store.
It cuts the time at the pump in half, eliminating over ten “touches” of the traditional card-swipe/keypad approach.
The opportunity to work with the IAG (E-ZPass Group) and the toll agencies across 18 states to solve the vehicle ID challenge is a key part of our approach. E-ZPass®is a trusted brand, which is why calling our pilot Driven by E-ZPassTM makes sense. It is one less hurdle for getting the consumer both familiar and comfortable with the program. And it is proving to be a good reason for the general media to favorably cover the innovation at play with the tolling industry.
3. Please tell us about your pilots and system roll out. What is the latest status?
In December 2020, we completed our first pilot – four gas stations (Alltown Mobil, owned by Global Partners) in Massachusetts. Based on the success of that, the retailer entered into a commercial deployment agreement for us to scale PayByCar to every Alltown Mobil in the state. We are currently equipping stations at about the rate of up to four sites per day.
In addition, our second pilot – this one at three gas stations in North Carolina with Circle K – has successfully completed its technical proof of concept stage, and we are entering into a small consumer enrollment effort near the three local stations. North Carolina is a great test area for a couple reasons – the NCDOT is well-known for innovation, and that’s always a plus. In addition, unlike states in the Northeast, there is a higher percentage of vehicles without toll transponders. So, it is an opportunity for us to also test our own PayByCar Smart Stickers, which again, are 6C RFID decals for the windshield.
On top of the specific pilot activity, we are also now partners with a very cool connected car company – Gentex, who provide Integrated Toll Module® RFID-enabled rear-view mirrors for automotive OEMs worldwide, including Audi. ITM® works with PayByCar the same way a traditional transponder or 6C tag would.
4. From a technology and deployment perspective, with each new retailer and set of locations, what is the typical process to set up the PayByCar capability?
To be scalable, PayByCar had to ensure that we could develop a “kit” approach to hardware installation. And we have succeeded in that. A key partner of ours is Star Systems International, Inc. (SSI), whose RFID equipment we use. To date, we use a combination of their Titan™ multi-protocol readers, coupled with SSI antennas. While the readers used in tolling are probably more powerful and sophisticated than we need in all use cases, but given the importance of “getting this right”, we think it is the appropriate way to start. In addition, we have other hardware partners for different IoT components, and best-in-class partners for cellular (Verizon) and text infrastructure.
It was important to us to start in fuel for two reasons – first, that is where consumers spend vastly more money – over $600B in the US alone – from their vehicles than any other vertical like fast food lanes, etc. And second, it is also the most complicated use case. Traffic patterns can be complicated with multiple entrances, multiple dispenser islands and pumps, etc. We knew that if we could make it work – and be installable in a reasonable amount of time – then the other verticals like food and parking would be simpler.
Our tech kit approach to these “above the canopy” installations has meant that we can be in and out of a station between 2-3 hours, without any disruption to the station operations. Once the installed equipment is “turned on”, it works immediately. There is no site-by-site programming required at that stage.
5. What do see for the future of PayByCar and related industry trends?
Regarding industry trends, contactless payments were always going to grow, but COVID-19 accelerated a massive shift in consumer behavior. Similarly, in-vehicle transactions were always going to grow, but the pandemic meant a rapid increase in curbside pick-up, drive-thru lanes, and so on. The rate of change may slow after the pandemic is over, but many of the new behaviors will remain. That said, the fragmentation of different solutions – from proprietary retailer apps to different OEM solutions for embedded payments – mean that consumers will be trying to sort out their best path forward.
As for PayByCar, we are betting that PayByCar’s approach of leveraging existing simple tech (like pay-by-text) and having a modular tech design where the vehicle ID may be done by RFID, geo-fencing, or other means, and the payment “card” can be whatever the consumer wants, from a traditional bank card to a payment wallet embedded in the dash software of a new car; all this can fit within our structure.
We share the view with others that as in-vehicle payments grow, there will be more opportunities for the public sector to rely on third party vendors to provide toll payment services that get integrated with other in-vehicle transaction consumer experiences.
PayByCar is a start-up with, we like to think, big ideas. And while we are proud of the traction we’ve developed, we know that to scale fast enough to take advantage of the opportunity means finding the right partners, both financial and strategic. The past couple of years have created a robust pipeline of retailer opportunities – yes, in fuel, of course, but also in curbside pick-up, fast food and parking (particularly airports and event parking).
At the same time, we are beginning to get calls from strategic players in multiple sectors, from intelligent transportation companies to payment companies to other fintech leaders. We expect we will be busy in the coming months putting together the next stage pieces to execute our scaling plan.
About Kevin Condon:
Kevin Condon is an experienced chief executive officer with a history of working in fintech, transportation policy, B-2-B media, and public policy. Kevin is the inventor of PayByCar and Efficient Vehicle Assessor (EVA), platforms that change how consumers do business from their cars. One of the charter members of the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance, Kevin is a leading advocate of “pay-at-the-pump” road-use charging.
He is an experienced leader and strong business development professional skilled in creating and implementing innovative strategies in both the private and public sectors.
PayByCar is a leader in making possible in-vehicle low-touch, pay-by-texting for connected cars – both new models with state-of-the-art tech, as well as millions of older vehicles. We start with a simple goal – make in-vehicle payments easy, safe, and fast today. If you have a toll transponder and a smartphone, you’ve got what it takes to join PayByCar now. If you don’t have a transponder, ask for PayByCar’s own non-toll tag instead.