Capital Metro considering new technology for easier ways to buy, use transit passes

Capital Metro is considering new technology, such as installing fare boxes on all of its buses, that would make it easier to purchase and use transit passes.

Capital Metro is considering new technology, such as installing fare boxes on all of its buses, that would make it easier to purchase and use transit passes.

The city of Austin’s transit agency is looking into updating its outdated fare collection system and equipment with new ways for customers to buy and use transit cards.

Capital Metro is considering new technology that could include re-loadable smart cards and options to buy mobile passes at retail locations. The agency would also like to add onboard fare validator boxes on every bus instead of just on its MetroRapid buses.

“If we can move the service faster then there are clearly operational efficiencies to bring out,” Randy Clarke, Capital Metro president and CEO, said. “We know there’s a lot of dwell time to get people on and off of our buses.”

Although some of these measures might still be a ways out, the agency has issued one request for proposals for new ticket vending machines and will issue a second one in November to obtain a fare systems consultant, said Reinet Marneweck, Capital Metro’s chief financial officer. The board is slated to take action on those requests for proposals in early 2019.

The new ticket vending machines would replace the ones at the MetroRail stations, which are not able to accept credit cards because of the new chip technology, and would be installed at busy bus stops, she said.

It costs Capital Metro about $3.1 million each fiscal year to collect fares, which total about $24 million in revenue, Marneweck said.

“Part of the reason [collection is] so low is our equipment is so outdated,” she said. “They are beyond life cycle and require significant downtime for maintenance and repair. We have to [update them].”

Capital Metro currently offers magnetic stripe cards that customers can purchase for daily, weekly and monthly passes. Re-loadable smart cards would replace these, although Capital Metro likely would slowly phase out the magnetic stripe cards, Marneweck said.

One goal Capital Metro has through these new fare collection initiatives is to minimize the use of cash payments, she said. Other pass options for customers who do not use credit cards would be offering passes at more retail locations and allowing for customers to purchase mobile passes at retail locations.

“Cash is very hard on the equipment and very costly to collect, process and bank,” she said. “We will still always offer cash [payments], but we want to offer our customers as many as possible other payment options as well.”

Reducing the use of cash would require an account-based back-end system, Marneweck said, with smart cards and onboard validator boxes that could also accept Apple Pay and Google Pay but also contactless credits cards that users just tap on the boxes and identification cards, such as from Austin ISD or Austin Community College.

“[Smart cards] would give us data on trips and travel patterns, such as how many transfers are the average riders making and all kinds of data we currently don’t have because of our systems,” Marneweck said.

Using smart cards would also allow Capital Metro to offer fare capping, which could reduce any social inequities with paying for fares, Clarke said.

“You may not be able to afford a monthly pass at the start of the month, and if you ride every day it actually costs you more than if you bought a monthly pass,” he said. “So fare capping could be done on a monthly way where if you reach day 16, you would have already paid for a monthly pass, and the rest of the month is free.”
By Amy Denney
Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and then senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition and covering transportation. She is now managing editor for the nine publications in the Central Texas area.


COVID-19 precautions such as a masking requirement remain in place at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Courtesy Austin-Bergstrom International Airport)
'Signs of hope' on the horizon at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport after year-plus dip in air travel

Rising passenger counts, new airline operations and an increase in vaccinations could all support the airport's recovery in 2021.

Capital Metro bus
Capital Metro announces increased transit services for Austin FC games this season

Capital Metro has increased the frequency of several bus routes for Austin FC game days at Q2 Stadium.

CDC ends all mask requirements for fully vaccinated people

The guidance states fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.

Students at Norman-Sims Elementary School and Austin ISD's 124 other schools across the district will now be allowed to remove masks during outdoor physical activities with the permission of a parent or guardian. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD makes outdoor masking optional, eases other health, safety restrictions

Students engaging in outdoor physical activity will now have the option to remove masks.

House Bill 1024, signed into law May 12, allows restaurants and bars to permanently sell alcoholic beverages to-go. (Courtesy Pexels)
Cocktails to-go are here to stay in Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott signs change into law May 12

Supporters say the change will help restaurants continue to recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Austin's phased process for moving people experiencing homelessness out of unregulated encampments will roll out through the summer. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
City officials detail homeless education and enforcement plan with Proposition B ordinances now in effect

The process that will eventually remove the city's homeless encampment begins this month with outreach and warnings and will stretch until late summer with full enforcement.

Residents will have until May 2023 to obtain a Real ID. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
US Department of Homeland Security extends Real ID deadline until 2023

Drivers will have until May 2023 to get the Real ID, which will be required for adults boarding a U.S. commercial flight.

Susan Bailey was elected president of the American Medical Association in June 2020. (Courtesy American Medical Association)
'I am convinced we will beat COVID': American Medical Association President Susan Bailey discusses vaccine successes, myths, challenges

Bailey was elected president of the American Medical Association in June 2020. Much of the organization's focus during that time has been on vaccine transparency and distribution.

Valentina’s offers breakfast and lunch tacos as well as barbecue. (Courtesy Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ)
South Austin's Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ will move to Buda in next year

The business announced it will be moving within the next year.