updated February 10, 2021 in light of information shared during Centro’s public hearings on fare restructuring. New payment technology will allow riders to pay the fare with their phones but not, initially, with a credit card.
There are different kinds of barriers that keep people from riding the bus, and Centro’s about to remove one of the big ones: finding exact change. Centro is upgrading its fare boxes to give riders the option of paying the fare with a smart phone, and that will make a lot more people a lot more comfortable stepping onto the bus.
Right now, paying the bus fare requires some advanced planning. The regular fare is $2, and you have to pay in exact change. That means finding four dollar bills or sixteen quarters or forty dimes or some combination of those before you leave the house in order to make a round trip. People just don’t carry cash as commonly as they used to, and it’s not unusual to not have the right combination of bills and coins to pay the bus fare. (you can also pay with a multi-ride pass, but that requires even more advanced planning since you’ll have to have purchased it well ahead of time).
This is a hassle, and it depresses ridership. Plenty of people really do pass up public transportation because they’re too worried about stepping onto the bus and not being able to pay because the only cash they’re got is a $20 bill and the operator can’t break it.
So it’s a very good thing that Centro is upgrading its fare boxes to accept mobile payment. You might have already noticed the new hardware that started showing up on the sides of fareboxes months ago. This new technology will give people the option of paying the fare (which Centro is lowering to $1) with their phone. And because plenty of people have their phone every time they leave the house, paying the bus fare will require no more planning than paying for a cup of coffee.
Clearly, there are other barriers to ridership. People also need to be able to understand where their bus is going, and the bus needs to actually go the places people need to get when they need to get there. Centro has the plans and funding to address those problems too, and they should roll out Bus Rapid Transit service before Ben Walsh leaves office.
But in the meantime, it is very exciting to see Centro making this simple, common-sense improvement to the rider experience. Mobile fare payment has succeeded in making transit more convenient in plenty of other cities, and it will remove an important barrier to ridership in Syracuse.