The MBTA on Monday moved towards overhauling its fare collection system to eliminate cash from its trolleys and buses and to give riders the ability to pay onboard with a credit card or smartphone, changes the T says will help keep the transit system running on time.
The T's Fiscal and Management Control Board approved a 13-year, $723.3 million contract for the design, installation, finance, operation and maintenance of the "Automated Fare Collection 2.0" project Monday afternoon. The winning bidder was a joint venture between California-based Cubic Corp. and the John Laing Group, a British company.
When implementation is completed, projected for May 2020, T riders will be able to pay for their trip by loading a balance onto something similar to a Charlie Card, tapping a credit card on one of the new fare boxes or by purchasing a ticket on a smartphone app. Riders will no longer be able to pay with cash on buses or the Green Line, eliminating transactions that cause delays and frustration for other passengers.
"This isn't just about the next generation of fare collection, but an entirely new way that our customers learn to interact with the MBTA, with more options to pay, more fare media available for use which will have compatibility across all modes, including commuter rail and the ferries," MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez said at Monday's FMCB meeting.
In addition to speeding up the trolley and bus boarding process, T officials said the new fare collection method will open the doors to things like all-door boarding on buses and Green Line trolleys, improved revenue and ridership data, and would allow the MBTA to consider fare policy innovations like distance- or time-based fares. It will also mean that T drivers will no longer have to also serve as fare collectors.
The shift away from cash transactions was flagged as a concern by some MBTA riders who said they are worried that the new policies would negatively impact riders who don't use smartphones or credit cards and often rely on cash. Louise Baxter, of the T Riders Union, said the T needs to make the kiosks that will accept cash in exchange for a contactless card are close to bus stops and easy for riders to find.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack stressed Monday that riders will be able to pay for their MBTA rides with cash once the new system is in place, but they will have to do it before getting on a train or bus.
"This is not a cashless system. This is a system in which cash is not used onboard the vehicles anymore," Pollack said. "But cash will still be quite usable and easily usable by our customers who need to use cash."
David Block-Schachter, the MBTA's chief technology officer, said every fare kiosk or vending machine will accept cash and dispense cards, and riders will be able to pay with cash for MBTA fares at a "much more robust retail network." Some street-level bus and trolley stations could get small solar-powered kiosks, he said.
He also said the T is building the new system with the privacy of riders in mind. Data from the system that is "aggregated and depersonalized" will be used for service planning, but no rider will be able to be identified by that data.
"Within the design of the system, your mobility information is separated from your personally identifiable information so that it is only the customer who can give permission for those two pieces of information to be linked," Block-Schachter said.
The T's current Charlie Card system requires users to load money onto a hard plastic Charlie Card or a paper Charlie Ticket, then either tap the card against a fare box or insert the ticket into the fare gate to gain access to the transit system.
The "automated fare collection 1.0" system was installed in 2006 and system-wide implementation of Charlie Cards began Jan. 1, 2007, according to the T.