MN: Metro Transit looks to let riders pay fares with credit cards and mobile apps

Jan. 29, 2024
The transit agency is looking to upgrade its fare collection equipment, and with it add the ability for customers to simply tap a credit card or debit card on a validator or use services such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Cash App to pay for their rides. Cash would still remain an option.

Better days are ahead for Metro Transit riders who find themselves fumbling for bills and coins to feed the cashbox or having to buy tickets from a vending machine to pay fares.

The transit agency is looking to upgrade its fare collection equipment, and with it add the ability for customers to simply tap a credit card or debit card on a validator or use services such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Cash App to pay for their rides. Cash would still remain an option.

"We are hoping with the combination of fare inspectors and easier payments that we will see better fare compliance," said Dennis Dworshak, Metro Transit's senior manager of Revenue Operations during a presentation at Monday's Met Council Transportation Committee meeting.

The full Met Council still needs to sign off on the plan to spend $37.7 million to replace card validators and other fare collection equipment, much of which was put in in the mid 2000s and has reached the end of its life, Dworshak said.

If approved, Metro Transit would enter into a contract with Cubic to provide new equipment and technology, which would also bring the new payment options to riders on SouthWest Transit, Maple Grove Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority and Plymouth Metrolink.

Current Go-To cards would be phased out over the next two to three years and replaced with new smart cards, allowing families or businesses to tie multiple cards to a single account. It also will allow customers to see in real time when cash is added, allowing riders to instantly see their balance.

Metro Transit also would be able to sell gift cards at retailers such as Target and Walmart that could be used to buy fares, officials said.

In December, Metro Transit stepped up fare compliance efforts by sending inspectors out on light-rail trains and buses to crack down on those who ride but don't pay. The effort was part of a larger multi pronged effort to beat back crime, connect those in need with social services and improve customer experience for all riders.

With the new technology, officers, instead of having to carry ticket pads and write citations by hand, would be able to print out tickets and scan ID cards, rather than use pen and paper to record a violator's identity.

But the main reason is to improve the customer experience with fare paying ,Dworshak said. Many riders get frustrated trying to use vending machines that are slow and cumbersome to use, and may be tempted to just get on and risk a citation. Others, like visitors, don't know how to use them, Dworshak said

"Customers can bypass the ticket vending machine, tap their credit card and get on the bus or train," he said.

Transit systems in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and New York City already use similar payment systems.

"We are excited, the technology is there and ready to be used," said Ed Petrie, Metro Transit's director of Finance. "We are matching today's technology which will be nice for the customer."

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