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Smart cards take another step forward

ETS’ transit smart card project — code named “ETSBlue” — just tookanother step forward, with a business case report being sped back tocommittee before budget season.

ETS’ transit smart card project — code named “ETSBlue” — just took
another step forward, with a business case report being sped back to
committee before budget season.

I can’t help but be excited, and not just because I’m an insufferable transit fanboy with a smart card collection that includes San Francisco’s TransLink, London’s Oyster, and Tokyo’s Suica and Pasmo.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, tapping the fare card against readers on buses and at stations takes care of free transfers, monthly passes, and cash payments to different transit agencies.

There are usually perks to entice people to use the cards since the transit agency benefits from reduced fare collection costs and valuable trip data for planning schedules.

Perks can include maximum daily fares — never being charged more than the price of a day pass — and discounts from cash and ticket prices.

Currently, 20 per cent of ETS fares are paid with cash. While the cash option is important, it can really slow buses down.

Pilot project surveys suggest that seniors and others with limited mobility find it easier to pay by smart card. However, the system needs to be designed so Edmontonians living paycheque to paycheque won’t be left out.

Those privileged enough to have both a credit card and Internet access can benefit from automatic subscriptions, making the monthly pass-buying routine a thing of the past.

But for those without much more than a few dollars at a time, a network of vending machines and retail outlets rivalling those currently in place for tickets and passes will be a must.

The necessary infrastructure isn’t free: In addition to vending machines and card distribution, every bus will need a card reader — two if the city wants to allow back-door boarding.

The cost is estimated at $24 million over four years, but it should pay for itself in another nine.

The savings include reducing fare evasion and handling costs — an agency the size of ETS needs to deal with millions of paper transfers and hundreds of tonnes of coins in a year, for example.

While deciding whether a ride is worth the cash or tickets is a big turnoff for transit, I actually have the opposite problem with smart cards: The stupid things make paying for transit so easy and convenient that I almost forget I’m spending money.

But since this just means increased ridership for the system, I’m willing to concede that’s a pretty good problem to have.

 
 
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