Transit App and COTA smartcards offer cash-free way to travel

Oct. 27, 2021
COTA has introduced a new digital payment system, providing an equitable and simple solution that saves customers money.

Come Nov. 1, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) will launch its new digital fare payment system, making it easier to purchase fares and ensure customers receive the best fare rate.

Utilizing the Transit app on mobile devices and smartcards linked to personal COTA accounts, COTA’s new way to pay for fares will increase safety and speed up contactless boarding.

COTA will also launch a new retail distribution network of approximately 350 locations throughout Central Ohio neighborhoods to meet its cash-only customers where they are, so they can add funds via cash to the Transit app or smartcard.

Customers using the new account-based ticketing system will benefit from new fare capping technology that keeps track of their trips so customers will not pay more than $4.50 per day or $62 per month, with the potential to save hundreds of dollars each year. To start using the new digital fare system, COTA customers can download the Transit app or visit COTA's website to learn more.

“We know that transit is at the heart of ensuring economic mobility for all in our region, and advancing this new digital fare payment system is truly the right thing to do,” said COTA President/CEO Joanna M. Pinkerton. “By correcting this inequity in our transit system, COTA is taking the next step in guaranteeing all of our residents have equal access to food, jobs, healthcare, the arts and entertainment throughout our region.”

Thousands of COTA customers use the Transit app daily for real-time trip planning and vehicle tracking. COTA partnered with Transit to make fare payments available in one easy-to-use app for customers to plan, track and pay for their complete COTA journey. The account-based ticketing solution is powered by Masabi, which enables fare-capping technology to guarantee the best possible price for customers, no matter where they ride, how they pay or whether they utilize the Transit app or a smartcard. Customers can only take advantage of fare capping if they use this new fare payment system.

Dublin, Ohio-based T-CETRA’s VIDAPAY network and InComm’s VanillaDirect network will provide the retail point of sale technology. This will help cash-only customers load their cash onto the Transit app or COTA Smartcard at more than 350 retail locations throughout Columbus and Franklin County neighborhoods.

“Our mission is to make riding public transit as simple and stress-free as possible,” said David Block-Schachter, chief business officer, Transit. “By introducing its new fare payment system in Transit, COTA is providing customers with an intuitive and seamless mobility experience, integrating cutting-edge fare capping technology from Masabi into Transit’s top-rated trip planner, to improve the rider experience at every step of the journey.”

“A modern public transit system must be accessible and equitable, and we partnered with COTA and Transit to help make that a reality for Central Ohio residents,” added Brian Zanghi, CEO, Masabi. “Our account-based ticketing approach allows transit companies such as COTA to provide customers with affordable fares, no matter how much or little they travel or how they choose to pay for those rides. It levels the playing field for all transit customers.”

Why the new system

In September, COTA’s Board of Trustees approved an updated fare policy, which set the stage for this new digital fare system to correct a digital inequity in transit prices. The goal of the new policy is to reduce barriers to transit access through fare affordability, increased access via retail options for purchasing and adding funds, and creating a more seamless payment experience for customers using the Transit app and COTA Smartcards.

Prior to the new digital system, those customers who didn’t have the means to purchase monthly passes were forced to pay the most to access transit. New fare-capping built into the system empowers everyone to ride COTA for the same cost, regardless of their financial situation.

COTA also makes transit more accessible for its cash-only customers with the expansion of its retail network from just a few dozen locations to approximately 350 retail locations throughout Central Ohio. The new system also allows for a customer’s fare to be valid for two hours, meaning they can travel anywhere in the system, on any line in any direction during that time.

How to use the new system

Account-based ticketing is key to ensuring the best possible price for customers and requires a registered COTA account. Taking a mobile-first approach, COTA suggests customers:

  • Download the Transit app, available in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.
  • Open the Transit app and tap the “Buy” button on the home screen, following the prompts to set up a COTA account.
  • Connect a payment method to the Transit app. Cash-only customers can specify cash and visit a local retail location to add funds to ride.
  • The Transit app will generate a QR code, and customers may board the COTA vehicle and scan the code on new validators at the front of the bus to ride.

Customers without smartphones or who prefer COTA Smartcards can visit the COTA Customer Experience Center to obtain a smartcard and set up a COTA account. A customer account can be linked to a credit card or bank account, or they can load cash at a retail location. The COTA Smartcard also will serve as a permanent boarding card.

Because the Transit app is integrated with fare payment systems for more than 50 transit agencies across the U.S. and Canada, including Greater Dayton RTA and SORTA/Metro in Cincinnati, COTA riders visiting other cities, as well as visitors to Central Ohio, can use the Transit app to pay fares when they travel without having to create a new account.

COTA is also encouraging customers to try the new system by offering Rides On Us for registered COTA accounts. If a customer registers between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, COTA will credit their accounts $4.50 within two business days.

COTA will hold pop-up events where riders can also learn how to use COTA’s new equitable fare system, set up an account and begin using the new system. The first is scheduled at COTA’s Customer Experience Center at 33 N. High Street on Nov. 1 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

COTA ambassadors will also work with customers to help set up accounts while they are traveling. Throughout November, ambassadors will be on various COTA transit vehicles and lines so customers can learn more about the new fare payment system as they are traveling to work or home.