A new Big Blue Bus program is encouraging riders to ditch cash and instead pull out their smartphones when they board a bus.

Starting with a soft rollout this week this week, Big Blue Bus will now accept mobile payments.

“The idea is to start slow and work out the kinks,” Sam Daly, one of four founders of Token Transit, the app working with BBB, said in a phone interview from his office in San Francisco.

If the new pilot program proves popular enough, the City will look into a permanent mobile payment option. Bus riders can participate by downloading the Token Transit app on their phones and buying bus tickets electronically. Once they board, they simply show the bus driver the purchased ticket or pass on their screen.

Daly and three other alums from Apple and Google started Token Transit in 2015. None of them own a car and two of them don’t even know how to drive.

“The younger generation is driving less and less so we need to cater to their needs,” Daly said, citing statistics from the University of Michigan that the percentage of high school students with a driver’s license has hit a record low. Daly says public transportation agencies were slow to change their payment methods while ridership was on the rise for the past 25 years.

However, low gas prices and the popularity of ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are reversing the trend, according to Daly. BBB has not been immune: ridership is down roughly 12 percent with about 14.98 million passengers every year, according to Santa Monica’s annual mobility report.

“There’s a sudden need to try something different,” Daly said. So far, Token Transit has launched similar pilots in Reno, Nevada and Eureka, California. After three months, about 5% of bus riders were using the app in Reno.

“We want to make it more convenient for customers to be able to pay their fair in different ways,” BBB director of transit services Ed King said.

The new mobile payment initiative is also about speed. As of December last year, nearly 50 percent of BBB customers still paid with cash. King hopes cutting that number can reduce trip times and get busses moving faster. Paying cash takes 23 seconds for every passenger, compared to paying with a prepaid pass or TAP card which takes just four seconds, according to a City staff report.

The City will consider the pilot a success if it can decrease the percentage of cash payments by just three percent.

Launching a full-scale mobile ticketing platform could costa as much as $500,000 or even more, according to staff estimates. For the Santa Monica pilot, the small start-up is asking for a 10 percent sales revenue commission up to $50,000.

Smartphone users can find the app by searching “Token Transit” in their app store.

kate@www.smdp.com