Calgary Transit may be getting in line with what most other public transit operators in North America are already doing — offering electronic fare payment options. Hopefully, this move will spur other payment options, too.

Calgary Transit spokesperson Ron Collins says customers have been saying they want more options for payment.

It’s true. I’ve been caught without the exact fare required. I generally carry a credit card or debit card over cash. While some transit authorities accept credit card and/or Interac payment, most have gone with prepaid cards.

That’s what Calgary Transit would be going with — smart cards. While Collins says the details still need to be worked out, the cards would allow customers to tap the card equipped with a chip on machines when they board a bus or C-Train rather than buying individual tickets or passes.

This would make boarding more efficient for drivers who wouldn’t have to check passes or count change. And it would make riding more efficient for commuters who could just carry their smart card. It would also reduce paper consumption and save time spent processing cash.

The cards could be topped up online or with cellphones or credit cards.

Whether the smart card system will go ahead or not depends on $270 million from the federal government as part of a shared funding plan with the city and the province.

Collins hopes to see an electronic fare collection system in place by 2011.

Most other cities I checked with like Vancouver, New York City, Chicago and San Francisco have had convenient electronic payment options in place for years now, which led me to wonder what other kinds of creative payment options other cities have employed?

In some cities you can have your monthly transit pass fee paid through a payroll deduction program. Ottawa’s program is called ECOPASS and it saves money, hassles and paper. By signing up, ECOPASS holders are issued one pass with photo ID that is valid as long as the payroll deductions continue. ECOPASS holders save 15 per cent over those who purchase monthly passes.

Increasing incentives and payment options could only serve to increase ridership and revenues for Calgary Transit.