When Bernadette Plettner lived in Long Beach, Calif., all she had to do to ride the local buses was call up a fare-paying app on her smart phone.
“You just put your phone under the reader,” she said Wednesday while waiting for a TARTA bus on Royer Road next to Franklin Park Mall. “You’re on, ready-to-go — no more [do you need] money in your pocket.”
For now, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority offers no such “cashless” option beyond the purchase of weekly or monthly passes — and those aren’t for sale aboard buses.
The transit authority’s board of trustees recently took a first step toward changing that.
The board last week approved joining NEO Ride, a consortium of Ohio transit agencies that intends to jointly commission the development and procurement of a technology-based payment system.
“We’re going to be able to implement a mobile fare solution ... for much less cost than we would be able to independently,” James Gee, the agency’s general manager, told the trustees.
Joining the consortium cost TARTA $2,500, and it and other participating transit agencies will divide the $12,000 the consortium will pay Masabi Ltd. to develop an electronic-payment system for them.
Masabi, based in London and with a New York office, lists transit agencies in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles among its leading clients.
Once its system is operational, Mr. Gee said, it would also receive a percentage of fares paid using its app.
TARTA will continue to accept cash fares and tokens and issue traditional passes once a cashless system is operational, Mr. Gee said.
That’s welcome news for Ken Schumaker, a Toledoan who carries a monthly TARTA pass and, while he sees the benefits for other riders, is hesitant to wet his toes when it comes to the cashless economy.
“I don’t do cashless payment yet, except for credit cards,” Mr. Schumaker said Wednesday while waiting for a bus in front of the Kroger store on Monroe Street at Secor Road.
Asked during the board meeting if TARTA had looked into accepting credit cards for on-board fare payment, Mr. Gee said: “It’s not a great idea. Validating cards slows boarding down, and if you wait to do it afterward, that’s a fraud risk.”
The same app will also provide users with tools to plan their trips and track their buses, Mr. Gee said. The expectation is that the program will be ready to use early next year, he said.
The transit authority’s bus-status app, TARTA Tracker, has proven unreliable — particularly after TARTA obtained from other transit authorities second-hand buses that weren’t equipped to report their locations to the app.
Mr. Gee told the trustees that a different system employed by University of Toledo buses — the operation of which TARTA recently took over — is being adapted to work for the entire TARTA system.
“It’s much more simple, easier to use, and less expensive than TARTA Tracker,” he said.
UT students and staff don’t have to worry about how to pay their fares because university identification now serves as a pass for the entire TARTA system, not just campus buses.
Clarissa Watson, a university student waiting for a bus Wednesday morning at UT’s Transportation Center, said that while she wouldn’t need a payment app right now, she recognizes the need.
Before she enrolled, “some days I could be short a few cents” for bus fare, she said, and “once I’m done being a student,” cashless payment could be useful once again for her.
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