Metro to install new eletronic payment system on entire bus fleet

In February 2011 UrbanCincy challenged Cincinnati transit leaders to create a universal transport payment system that would rival the world’s very best. The challenge was made, in part, because we knew an overhaul of Metro’s 17-year-old fare collection system was imminent.

On Friday Metro officials announced those long-anticipated changes. By the end of 2011 Metro will install new fareboxes on their entire 333-bus fleet. The new fareboxes will utilize smartcards that can be loaded with monthly passes or set pay amounts ($10, $20 or $50). The use of smartcards will allow riders to simply tap-and-go, and it will allow transit planners to more accurately track ridership patterns system-wide. The new GFI Odyssey fareboxes will also automatically issue transfers upon payment.

“One of our goals is to make riding Metro easier and more convenient for our customers and potential customers,” Terry Garcia Crews, Metro CEO, said in a prepared statement Friday. “The new fareboxes will help Metro boost productivity by generating detailed ridership data that Metro needs to manage our service.”

Each year Metro collects approximately $23 million in fares, which accounts for roughly 27 percent of Metro’s total operating revenue. The new fareboxes are being purchased largely through a $3.6 million federal grant which is providing 80 percent of the total cost. The remaining $900,000, officials say, will come from local funding.

Officials say that future improvements may be made to the smartcards that could allow for more flexible spending accounts, but for now only set payment amounts will be accepted. While the system is an enormous improvement over Metro’s nearly two decade old system, it still falls short of UrbanCincy’s challenge.

As currently planned, the system does not integrate with the other regional transit agencies or with local businesses, and there is no mention of the smartcards compatibility with financial institutions. Furthermore, the new system does not integrate with other modes of transport like taxis or the University of Cincinnati’s bike share program, for example.

As the new GFI Odyssey farebox system is implemented over the next six months, regional leaders should meet to discuss how this $4.5 million investment should be leveraged to improve Cincinnati’s quality of life for tourists, businesses and residents. A truly integrated payment system, like London’s Oyster Card or Seoul’s T-Money Card, has the ability to change the game. Cincinnati should be so bold.

  • Nate Wessel

    What do you mean by set pay amounts? I assume it will deduct the amount of your fare from the value on the card, right? And then the card could be reloaded online or downtown?

    I’m really looking forward to this! I can’t tell you how sick I am of letting the bus go by because I don’t have a quarter on me…

  • Greg

    This and other recent initiatives signal to me that Metro is looking to make their system easier to use. Making the system easier is of enormous importance when you are trying to attract new ridership. This is a step in the right direction. Bravo!

  • Ryan L

    I think it is great that they are finally updating the system. Taking friends from other cities on the Metro buses was always a pain because I had to get change for everyone who was riding. This will make it much easier as I can just purchase a $10 card for friends, and they can pay me back with a drink!

  • Matt

    Any idea how the payment will be made? This is a great step especially if you can refill it online.

  • WamBam

    One small step closer to BRT! One giant leap for Sorta!

  • Aaron

    The set-amount cards, will they have an expiry date? Will there be a way to check balance, online perhaps?

    Also, will the buses still accept cash? If not, they had better make obtaining a card very easy so that tourists or just very occasional users can ride it they need to. Perhaps they could sell the prepaid passes at convenience stores or gas stations, or order them online.

    Still, I agree this is great news, a sign of mass transit progress for the city.

  • adam.

    if that picture above is of the actual system (which I believe it is), than the digital readout says it accepts coins and bills.

  • The GFI link tells you it accepts bills and coins and that credit card acceptance is an option. Probably down the line?
    Other than taking bills, I think those old fare boxes are more like 50 years old. LOL
    What is “Optional J-1708 link available to AVL and other bus systems”

  • grif

    I hope that they considered using the same system for the streetcar. Having the same payment system for both would be great! This is a good start. It will also reduce the amount of time at stops and no more worry about having exact change!

  • Rob Jaques

    Since SORTA/Metro will be the operator of the Streetcar, I would assume that the fare systems would at least be compatible, if not the same.

  • streetcar to nowhere

  • Ryan L

    @Mark Miller

    Willie is predictable. And he claims a $25 million operating cost. Try $2.5 million.

    Stop posting on this site. You are not swaying anyone’s decisions. This isn’t COAST’s blog where everyone has a fake name and remains anonymous and makes spineless attacks at others. Grow up.

  • Deeno

    One small step for the midwest… Hopefully what they mean is a debit card of sorts, reloadable metro card, so those of us who don’t use it 5 days a week won’t be out money each month. FYI, conceptual design for New York City subway system was developed in 1869. First NYC subways built in 1910.

  • Yes! Last year my family moved from China (where we had these sort of tap and go cards) to Columbus, and I want to scream sitting there waiting for everyone to count their change or mess with flimsy paper cards that are all bent up. One of our first assignment in my city planning class was try to take the bus 5 miles with a transfer & make it back before the class ended in 2 hours. We started at one bus stop… but no one made it back in time. So slow. I hope Columbus takes notice of this!

  • Nathan Strieter

    Randy you say “Cincinnati should be so bold.” But really Cincy must be bolder than London or Seoul, it is a smaller system which can be more intimately networked with other transit offerings and must do so considering the city’s location along a state border.
    This a a great step- do not get me wrong- but IT COMPLETELY misses the potential that such an investment could have.
    If Cincy wants to be livable this is the MINIMUM but if Cincy wants to seriously attract residents and businesses at the rate that Agenda360 aspires the MTA needs to realize that is far from acceptable.

  • I agree that this payment system should go much further, but I also know that transit officials are working with very limited resources. For that I commend them for making this happen, but coordination with other transit and local government agencies and business should be a priority, and would not cost much (if anything) to do.

  • Kudos to Metro! I still remember the time I saw the bus driver take a large utility knife to the coin collector (while driving) because change was stuck and no one was able to pay. Hope to never see that again!

    @grif: I agree that the buses and streetcar should use the same payment system. Going a step further, it would also be nice if transfers are allowed between the two.

    In New Orleans, the streetcar lines are numbered just like the bus lines. Fares are the same on all lines, and inexpensive transfers are available between streetcar and bus. It definitely makes it easy to jump from one form of transport to the other! When I was there, I witnessed plenty of people doing this… and it seemed just as easy as transferring buses!