Metro Transit mulls credit card, smartphone payment options

Paying to take public transit in the Halifax Regional Municipality could become technologically advanced as the city looks to expand payment options for riders.

Improvements to fare options part of five-year plan

Metro Transit has released a request for fare options, fishing for ideas — such as credit card and smartphone payment options — that could become a reality for users. (CBC)

Paying to take public transit in the Halifax Regional Municipality could become technologically advanced as the city looks to expand payment options for riders.

Metro Transit has released a request for fare options, fishing for ideas — such as credit card and smartphone payment options — that could be incorporated in a more specific tender to be released in September.

"We're looking to make some improvements to how we handle fares for our users," said Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for the Halifax Regional Municipality.

"What companies, what kind of ideas they have, we're open to hearing that because we haven't actually decided yet specifically what those improvements may be."

Sean Gillis is a volunteer with the It's More Than Buses group — a coalition between the Planning and Design Centre and Fusion Halifax that explores how to improve the city's public transportation system.

Gillis said for casual transit riders, regular fares can be awkward.

"You have to go physically buy a bus ticket or have cash on hand and most people don't carry cash, so that's actually a disincentive," he said.

"Places that have tried this, people use the bus just a little bit more in the day because it's just so easy."

Gillis said Metro Transit could also look into some "low-tech fixes."

"I think we also have to remember that not everyone is going to embrace smart cards and smartphones to get their transit fares and transit info," he said.

"The real basics like having a route map and schedule information at the stops — there's very few stops in the city that have that and I think that's really missing."

Improvements to fare options are one part of Metro Transit's five-year technology plan. Stairs said Metro Transit would be looking into other improvements separately from that strategy.

If regional council approves any changes, the future of Metro Transit's fare options could look more like those in some bigger city centres around the world.

In Boston, for example, the Massachussetts Bay Transportation Authority offers ticketing through a smartphone app. In Hong Kong, the Octopus payment card serves as an easy swipe card on public transit.

Metro Transit said there is no particular city it would model fare options after; rather, it would be following industry trends.

It will likely take until the end of this year before Metro Transit finishes the tender process. After that, it will be at least 2016 before transit riders would see any changes to fare options, said Stairs.

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