Capital Metro looks to modernize its ticket validators, fare payment system

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Austin-area riders are limited to using credit cards to purchase a Capital MetroRail ticket through the Capital Metro app or at a partnering retail outlet but not at the rail station.

By next spring that will change as the transit agency plans to install new ticket vending machines that will once again allow riders to pay for passes using credit cards, said Reinet Marneweck, chief financial officer for Capital Metro. These machines will also be installed at high-frequency bus stations. Validators installed at the front and rear doors will be able to accept existing passes and even smart cards that Capital Metro is considering.

“With the onboard validators on the buses they can just validate their tickets and board faster,” she said.

The previous rail ticket vending machines that allowed riders to use credit cards to purchase passes could not accommodate new credit cards with chips, Marneweck said. Capital Metro opted to disable the debit and credit card feature in October 2016 until the new machines could be purchased. This move also encouraged use of the agency’s mobile app, which is undergoing a revamp as well.

This summer the mobile app will have a new interface and will also accept Apple Pay and Google Pay.

By summer 2020, the agency will be adding onboard validators that are now on just its Capital MetroRapid buses to every bus so riders can validate passes on their smartphones. The cost of the new validators is expected to be about $3 million to $3.5 million, according to agency documents.

In the coming years, Capital Metro plans to switch to some form of an account-based system that would allow users to have a smart card to purchase and use passes, Marneweck said. This could cost between $18 million and $20 million, according to agency documents.

However, she said the agency is waiting until the outcome of the planned November 2020 transportation bond that will likely include some part of the Project Connect regional transit plan. This plan is still being created and will include some form of high-capacity transit, such as bus-rapid transit like MetroRapid, rail or autonomous vehicles.

“Pending the vote in November 2020, we’ll know what type of system will best meet our needs,” Marneweck said.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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