Contactless cash: Ensuring that everyone is along for the ride
Katherine Conrad, Director of Client Services at NEORide, discusses the introduction of cash payments for mobile tickets across the EZfare payment system and why this is key to ensuring that the needs of both transit and its passengers are met.
NEORide, a Council of governments comprised of 17 transit systems dedicated to the development and promotion of regional public transportation services, have launched cash payments for mobile tickets across the EZfare payment system (which is enabled by Masabi). EZfare is currently being utilised by 14 transit agencies across Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. With the continuation of COVID-19 and transit agencies increasingly seeking contactless and low-touch ticketing solutions, this move ensures that cash-paying riders will still have access to touch-free services.
How does it work?
Transit riders can load cash by visiting any of the participating agency’s transit centres and use cash or card to buy mobile tickets or to add funds to their EZfare or Transit App Account. These funds can then be used to buy tickets when needed. EZfare’s other partner apps – Uber and Moovit – plan to make this feature available by the end of 2021.
When visiting the transit centre, riders simply need to present their in-app Account ID barcode and select the ticket that they would like to buy or their EZfare Account Barcode, then pay using cash or card. Agencies will use Masabi’s Justride External Orders API to securely send visual and barcode tickets directly to riders using the EZfare and Transit apps or add value to their EZfare Accounts.
In addition to transit centres, EZfare will be integrating with multiple nationwide retail locations in the autumn of 2021. Once this integration is complete, transit passengers will be able to visit stores associated with InComm’s VanillaDirect Pay programme and load cash on to their EZfare Account. This feature will only be available on mobile phones at launch, but will be expanded to EZfare smartcards in 2022. Retail stores associated with the programme include Dollar General, Family Dollar, 7-Eleven, Kum & Go, Speedway, Walgreens and CVS.
This programme expansion is part of NEORide’s $1.9 million IMI Grant project funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The grant aims to create an innovative alternative payment system that is specifically targeted at services available to unbanked and underbanked individuals. By implementing stored value/EZfare Accounts, retail sales, smartcards and fare capping, the EZfare system will become more accessible to underserved populations and those without access to mobile devices.
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) also recently awarded two of our EZfare agencies funding to purchase Ticketing Vending Machines (TVMs). Once smartcards are launched, passengers will have the ability to visit these machines to purchase new cards or load value onto their EZfare accounts. TVMs will further expand access to cash usage and is a step further towards removing cash acceptance on buses.
Why is it important?
Based on research conducted by Cleveland State University of 1,600 transit users across the EZfare system, more than 15 per cent of respondents report not having access to a bank account or credit card. Though 95 per cent of respondents reported having access to a smartphone or cell phone, only 79 per cent stated that they had access to the internet and would therefore need to rely on expensive data plans. This research further validates the need for these types of cash integrations and smartcards.
By expanding access to underserved communities, it makes contactless payment options available to all transit users. With COVID-19 continuing to be prevalent in our communities, it provides safety measures for both passengers and drivers. EZfare will continue to expand to meet the needs of transit and its passengers.
Currently the Director of Client Services for the Ohio Transit Risk Pool (Health TP, NEORide and TransitRE), Conrad oversees the day-to-day needs of its transit members, including handling special projects, grants and marketing. In 2019, she spearheaded the effort to launch EZfare, the largest multi-county mobile ticketing app in the country, and expanded NEORide from seven to 13 transit agencies. With her help, she has been able to obtain over $4 million in state and federal funding for NEORide agencies to expand regional transportation.