Smart fare machines finally installed on select Edmonton buses

Edmonton Transit Service prepares to pilot fare card system five years after city approval.

Regional transit prepares to pilot fare card system five years after funding approved

ETS is installing farecard readers on ETS buses for passengers to use on regional transit systems by 2020. (ETS Operations)

Riders are beginning to notice new fare card machines installed on Edmonton region buses, but won't be able to tap and ride just yet. 

A fully electronic ticketing system should be operational by the end of 2020, according to Ken Koropeski, ETS director of special projects.

The first five machines were installed on ETS buses in April and soon more will be equipped with the technology. Eventually, the system will be introduced across regional transit systems, including in St. Albert and Strathcona County.

"There will be hundreds of outlets in the Edmonton area where cards can be acquired and the accounts can be reloaded," Koropeski told CBC's Radio Active on Monday. 

"Once the passenger has the card and that in place, then it's just tapping on and tapping off on buses and at the LRT platforms," he said.

The new system will still allow transit users to pay with cash, but will completely replace paper tickets. 

Riders will be able to reload their cards on a pay-as-you-go basis and the funds will be stored in an online account. 

This means that even if you lose your transit card, you can still recover your funds, Koropeski said. 

Eventually the system will also allow riders to pay directly with the tap of a debit card or credit card. 

That change will be phased in once the fare card system is already in place, according to an ETS representative. 

Tap and go, not so fast

The smart fare plan is being implemented more than five years after the city of Edmonton first approved funding for a tap card system. 

In 2014, Mayor Don Iveson said he hoped passengers would be using electronic tickets by 2016. 

Several other Canadian cities have used smart fare systems on public transit for years, including Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto. 

However, Calgary abandoned adopting electronic fares in 2016, after twice trying to install a fare card system that was plagued by delays and technical problems and paying the company Schneider Electric Design $5 million to implement the technology. 

In early June this year, Calgary began piloting an app-based fare system as a possible alternative. 

In 2017, Edmonton opted to sign a contract with Vix Technology to install the account-based electronic ticketing. 

"It did take a while to decide on the type of system that we're going with, and we are going with the most modern system that we can," Koropeski said.

A recent shift in the industry technology also added to the complexity of introducing smart fare, he said. 

"It's a very large and complex change, for our customers for our internal processes," Koropeski said. "So it does take time to implement and through the design of the system we are making sure that it will work well for our customers."

ETS plans to test the new fare card system as a pilot for post-secondary and high school students in September 2020, before it becomes fully operational.