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No cash? No problem soon for RTS bus riders 

click to enlarge Bus pass kiosks at the downtown RTS Transit Center.

FILE PHOTO

Bus pass kiosks at the downtown RTS Transit Center.

Regional Transit Service bus riders will soon be able to board buses without cash or passes.

The public transit agency is aiming to launch a cashless, mobile payment system for riders in April. RTS spokesperson Tom Brede told CITY the new option will work through the agency’s app and online accounts linked to a source of funds, such as a bank account, enabling riders to pay their fares as they board by scanning a code displayed on their smartphone screens.

Right now, riders can only pay their fares using hard cash or one of RTS’s various passes. The system does not have a reader for debit and credit cards. It is not an outlier — transit systems across the country are just now equipping their bus fleets with on-board cashless payment systems.

Mumina Ali takes the bus a few times a week. When asked if she thought the new system would be convenient for her, she offered a single word: “Definitely.”

Currently, for riders who prefer to hop aboard without cash, there are two, relatively antiquated methods for obtaining a bus pass. One involves the rider ordering the pass online and the rider waiting for the agency to mail the pass to his or her home. The other requires a rider to access a pass from one of the vending machines at the downtown RTS Transit Center or the agency’s East Main Street headquarters. The machines accept cash and credit and debit cards.

For anyone not carrying cash or a bus pass, catching a bus from a stop other than the downtown station or the bus agency’s headquarters can be a challenge. There often aren’t ATMs nearby.

The new payment system will also have options for customers who don’t have or don’t want to use smartphones, or who may not have credit cards, debit cards, or bank accounts. Vending machines will provide reloadable cards.

Brede explained that both approaches will use “fare capping” to prevent people from overpaying for bus rides. The system will automatically give riders a daily pass once they spend $3 on fares in a day, the same price as a full-day pass, he said. The same will apply to the $56 monthly pass.

The RTS app will also have a role in the transit agency’s new so-called “on-demand zones,” formerly community mobility zones, which will be put in place when the Reimagine RTS plan takes effect on June 29. That plan lays out how RTS will overhaul routes and operations.

The on-demand zones are located largely in the suburbs, and replace what RTS officials considered to be underused fixed routes out to places such as Brockport, Webster, and Pittsfford. Many of those routes also had limited service hours.

Some elected officials — particularly in Brighton and Henrietta — have criticized the decision to eliminate fixed routes in their communities.

The transit agency plans to serve the zones using smaller buses or vans, which it will own and operate. Users will be able to schedule rides and pick-ups within those zones using either the RTS app or by calling in to the agency’s customer service center.

“The great thing about the on-demand zones is they’re going to run seven days a week,” Brede said. “It’s going to be an expansion of service.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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