Jan 24, 2024 - Transit

Metro Transit upgrade will allow riders to tap and pay with credit card or phone

People wait in line at a transit station, with payment kiosks in front of them

Taylor Swift fans line up for a train next to a pay station. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Paying for a bus or train ride could soon become as easy as tapping your credit card or smartphone.

Driving the news: Metro Transit is planning a major upgrade of its fare collection system.

Why it matters: The upgrades will make paying for trips easier and faster, according to transit officials. It will also remove the burden of getting a Go-To card and loading it up with credit.

State of play: The current fare collection system is 20 years old. Metro Transit has made smaller patches and upgrades to it, but "we have pretty much done as much as we can," finance director Ed Petrie told a Met Council committee on Monday.

  • The validation machines on buses and at train stations are "near the end of their life," he said.
  • The machines often fail to read cards, which slows down buses. Sometimes this results in a free ride if the driver can't get it to operate.

What's next: In addition to being able to tap a credit card or using Apple Pay or Google Pay on their smartphone, riders will still be able to use cash or a new transit card that will replace the old Go-To cards.

  • Petrie said 80% of credit cards now are contactless.

Plus, Metro Transit officers — who are already upping fare enforcement — will be outfitted with new devices that allow them to print citations rather than hand write them as they do now.

Details: The upgrades, plus a five-year contract with vendor Cubic Corp., will cost $37.7 million. Sticking with Cubic, which has been Metro Transit's longtime vendor, will save about 25% to 30% versus going with a new vendor because some infrastructure can be salvaged, Petrie said.

Zoom out: Other big transit systems have adopted similar technology, including in New York City, Chicago, and, soon, Boston.

What we're watching: Back office upgrades will begin soon, but customers won't begin seeing the new machines until early 2025.

  • The switch will be complete in late 2026. Go-To cards will still be accepted during the transition.

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