City moves closer to smarter rides for transit users

The city is getting closer to implementing new payment cards for transit users, but installing the new contact-less payment technology could still be years away.

The city plans to select a vendor for the new technology within the next few months

The City of Edmonton is moving a step closer towards implementing a new smart-card system, like this one, for transit fare payments. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

The city is getting closer to implementing new payment cards for transit users, but installing contact-less payment technology could still be years away. 

Edmonton city council first started looking at switching to a smart-card system for transit users in 2014. The cards would allow commuters to tap in and out to pay fares, and reload the cards online.

Transit manager Eddie Robar said the city is now close to selecting a vendor for the new technology — but installing it will be a "multi-year project."

"We'll be at award for the vendor in the next few months," Robar said. "Once we've got the award for the vendor, we're able to timeline out how long will it take for us to get to a point where we're implementing the service itself.

"These fare payment systems are challenging and difficult to implement, and you want to get it right."

Commuters on Edmonton's transit system currently buy individual or multiple tickets, or passes by the day, month or year. Tickets must be validated and can be exchanged for paper transfers. Transit passes can be purchased at city hall, in vending machines or at convenience stores.

Robar said new fair payment technology would streamline the process for commuters by allowing them to reload cards and eventually eliminate tickets and passes.

"Our objective would be to eliminate tickets and passes and move everybody to the smart card technology the best we can," Robar said.

"We still have cash, obviously. You'll never, ever get rid of cash. But you want to have somewhere between an 80- to 90-per-cent conversion rate."

​Robar said the city is in the negotiation stage with technology vendors and is looking to ensure the system is quick and convenient for commuters.

"There's a lot of improvements on the convenience and connectivity of the service itself," he said. "What we're looking to do is change the way that people interact with our vehicles every day."

With files from Nola Keeler