Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.

  • SORTA already has some customers using tap-and-go cards…when they’ll roll them out to everyone and offer flexible account balances is anyone’s guess. Right now I’m pretty sure the cards are just for certain people getting a discounted fare, but if you ride the bus enough, every once in a while you’ll see one of them get on, just tapping their card, showing it to the driver, and walking on back.

    In fact, I’m pretty sure CPS students might have a similar proximity-read card now too, because I saw someone try to pay by just slapping her purse on the thing(it beeped, so it read the card) and the driver made her come back and show her the card to verify her picture id and pay the balance.

    • FWIW, the worst systems around the world still have separately operated lines that don’t have a unified fare rate or collection system. In Bangkok they have the same ticketing machines, but you must buy separate tokens for each of the differently operated rail lines. And since you’re buying tokens, that basically means you need to go to the machine each time you ride since you aren’t going to carry around a bundle of tokens with you at any given time.

    • Metro employees (who ride free) are using prox cards that only need to be tapped on the fare box. I didn’t realize that other groups were using them as well.

    • EDG

      Metro is clearly holding back on tech upgrades for some reason. I spoke with a Metro employee as we were both waiting for the bus a few weeks ago and they said that Metro hasn’t pursued a bus tracker website because they’re worried people will see how behind buses are running.

    • Matt Jacob

      That’s a pretty bad reason not to implement this technology if that’s really what’s holding them back. If the buses are running late, this technology could be a part of the solution towards fixing the problem since they’d be able to pinpoint exactly where on the route the problems lie and adjust schedules/routes accordingly.

      As a rider, I’d rather see where a late bus is so I can plan to wait at the stop 5 minutes later rather than wait in the rain for 5 minutes that I didn’t have to. It’s inevitable that some buses will eventually run late, but transparency to the riders builds trust that in the end builds long-term ridership.

      “The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.” I think a bus tracking app or website would not only provide similar ridership growth, but also make maintaining ridership over the long term much easier.

    • EDG

      Yeah, I think real-time tracking information would be a better investment right now for attracting choice riders than barely updating payment technology.

    • To your first point, they’ve had this information available for assessing their own operations for years. They just don’t share it with us.

    • Mark Christol

      The problem they probably really want to hide is buses running ahead of schedule.
      At night, when ridership is low, buses can get ahead of themselves. The drivers, apparently don’t mind the fact that people are getting stranded in the outlying areas because they are running 15-20 minutes ahead of schedule.
      Of course, when they get downtown, they will park & wait so they get to Gummint Square on time…

    • EDG

      I give Metro drivers credit for stopping to retime themselves, but I’ve never been on a CTA bus that has stopped to retime itself and they have no problem providing a tracker app.

    • I’m going to give Metro credit for slowly catching up with the times: Google Transit, new pay-fare systems, card machines, etc.

      We’re not that far removed (3-4 years ago) from coin boxes being the only option. Or when those got jammed–plastic Kroger bags.

    • I definitely give them credit. It’s great that they’re making upgrades.

      I think it’s important, however, to put it into context and realize that the systems they’re putting into place are outdated upon arrival. The real-time arrival screens, fare payment system and ticketing machines are all using old technology that is being phased out by the world’s best transit systems.

      I think of it like this. You can be late to the party, but if you’re going to be late then you can’t show up looking like you forgot to shower or get dressed up. You should roll into that party looking top-notch. In Metro’s case that could have been implementing the technology that is considered a best practice by 2014 standards.

    • I won’t disagree with you there. By the time those real-time signs were up, there were already better free apps that could have done a better job of communicating the information to people for less money…if they’d just opened up the data.

      Similarly, it seems like they’re delaying the release of the data further because they’re trying to implement a texting-based version of the thing at the same time. Texting of all things.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I always found the texting versions to be less accurate. Though not everyone has smartphones yet.

  • EDG

    What has prevented Metro from selling passes at CVS?

    • Good question.

    • I always find it odd when I visit Chicago and have to go into a Walgreens to buy a 3-day or 5-day pass. I wish they were available at kiosks at stations.

    • Neil Clingerman

      A nice thing about ventra (in spite of the million transition issues that happened) is that now you can buy these passes at every train station, like any other major city with well developed transit in this country.

      Having to buy day passes at walgreens (and not all of them too) drove me nuts when I’d have friends over, though it would be nice if that was a supplimental way of buying in addition to kiosks at high traffic areas :).

    • EDG

      The weekender pass is a better deal than the day pass and lasts longer.

      The best thing about Ventra is that you can load any amount and it’s tap and go. You can also use it as your sole debit card since it’s a Visa.

  • Chas Wiederhold

    “The machine only accepts cash and credit card” Were we hoping for bitcoin or something?

    I used the machine the other day. Knowing that I just wanted a Zone 1 pass, I found the process to be super speedy. My bus had just pulled up, I needed to get a pass right then and there. Selected the option, swiped my debit card, left the receipt and ran onto the bus. No extra, confusing steps. DC, NYC, Paris all suffer from a paradox of choice. I felt like I couldn’t ever get a basic, typical card fast enough.

    Chicago’s dispenser is so unmemorable (it’s been a year and a half since I’ve lived there) so it must have been good. It is nice that you can get an L pass all over the place in the city.

    • Ha! Good point. The main issue is that the machine does not give change. Accepting both cash (exact change only) and credit cards is not all that bad. I still don’t quite understand The Bitcoin.

    • ScottG13

      Bitcoins are for buying drugs online. And probably guns. Anything you don’t want traced.

  • AJ

    I’ve been elated with the upgrades that Metro has been making. Does anybody else remember the dark ages of just orange paint on poles? Oy. I think Metro is a VERY well run system, with the only thing holding them back being financing. They are doing a lot with chicken scraps. If we could just get Hamilton County to contribute its fair share, we’d have a fantastic system.