SC: COMET Riders Could Soon Pay Fares Using Mobile App

 Ever panicked while scrounging up cash for a bus ticket? Columbia could soon become a pilot city for a program that would alleviate that scramble.

The COMET, the Midlands transportation system, is partnering with a Charlotte-based app company to launch a pilot program that would allow transit users to pay their rider fees using a free mobile app.

Passport Parking, which specializes in collecting parking payments via mobile devices, has developed a transit payment app for The COMET that could go live as soon as late August or early September, said Bob Schneider, executive director of The COMET.

COMET riders would be able to use the app to connect fee payments — for single-trip, one-day, 10-ride and 31-day passes — directly to their credit or debit card accounts. When their fare is paid using the app, riders can show the app screen to bus drivers to prove that their fare has been covered.

"You're in Columbia, and we have to make it just as easy for you to ride here as it is (in a big city)," Schneider said. "We're not going to be New York City, but we can be cutting edge and find new ways to attract your attention."

Mobile payment for transit fares is a new concept nationally, being used in a handful of larger transit markets like Portland and Boston. Columbia would be one of the smallest markets to try it out, and the first in the Southeast, Schneider said.

The COMET's step toward mobile transit payment is part of a much larger progressive mindset that is rolling out a number of new technological features that will link together to make Midlands transportation a more convenient user experience, Schneider said.

Starting in August, COMET riders can track bus location and arrival times using the TransLoc app. And within the next few weeks, the Google Maps transit feature will allow riders to map out their Midlands trips using bus routes.

The Passport Parking pilot program won't cost The COMET anything. A six- to 12-month pilot period would allow Columbia and Passport Parking to determine what works and doesn't work and how to effectively implement the system here and in other cities.

After testing the program in Columbia, Passport Parking hopes to offer the service to other small markets like Asheville, where the PassportParking app already is being used to collect parking fees, said Passport co-founder Bob Youakim.

"This is very new," Youakim said. "It's green space that people are moving toward. Our value is once you already have the parking, it's a natural step ... to enable the transit."

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

Copyright 2014 - The State (Columbia, S.C.)