For many years, the humble bus token was the most convenient way for transit customers to pay their fares. And Metro Transit still sells about 1 million tokens a year to select non-profit agencies.
However, for the last five years, a form of smart card – called the Go-To card – has been rapidly gaining in popularity.
The Go-To card is a durable plastic card used to pay fares. Instead of inserting cash or a magnetic fare card into a fare box, customers can touch their cards to a reader and their fares are deducted instantly. The proportion of regional transit patrons using these cards for fare payment has grown from 16 percent in 2007 when they were first introduced to about 49 percent currently.
Tom Randall, senior manager of revenue operations for Metro Transit, says Go-To cards are especially popular among customers of express bus routes and the Northstar commuter rail line, with more than 80 percent of the riders using them.
These riders no longer than to worry about fumbling for the correct fare. And card readers automatically deduct the right fare for peak and off-peak hours. “It’s fair to say that, overall, Go-To Cards are several times faster than other methods of paying fares,” says John Siqveland, public relations manager for Metro Transit.
The Go-To cards have other advantages for customers:
- The fare cards can be used throughout the regional transit system, including Metro Transit buses and trains as well as the buses operated by six small suburban transit providers.
- Customers can add fare online, via phone, at a rail station, a Metro Transit store or an authorized retail outlet. Some 72 retail outlets – including many Cub and Rainbow Food stores and Unbanks – currently provide this service. By the end of 2012, the number is expected to grow to more than 120.
- If a registered card is lost or stolen, Metro Transit will replace the lost value for a nominal fee.
In addition to the regular Go-To card, transit passes that use Go-To technology include Metropass, the employer-provided pass; U-Pass, available to University of Minnesota students; the College Pass, for students at participating colleges and trade schools, and Student passes for high school students.
Randall says the cards have become much more economical over the last five years, with the cost dropping from $3.50 or $4 per card in 2007 to 48 cents today. “We expect that trend to continue,” he says.
For Metro Transit, the growing use of these cards translates into faster trips and better on-time performance. The card readers require maintenance an average of once every 30,000 transactions, compared with every once every 6,000 transactions for fare boxes.
The cards also generate data that helps Metro Transit manage the system and achieve its goal of recovering 30 percent or more of its costs from fares.
Bus operators like cards as well, since they reduce the chances of “fare conflicts” with customers. “Our drivers say, ‘If I hear a beep, we’re good to go,’” Randall says.
Of course, if you are wedded to the past and prefer to use tokens, Metro Transit still accepts them – provided they were issued after 2003. No collectors’ items, please.
“Tokens are still a valid fare,” Randall says, “but the technology is a little dated.”