Smart fare rollout for Edmonton transit delayed until 2021

The rollout of smart fare on Edmonton transit will be delayed until 2021, a city spokesperson confirmed Thursday. 

First phase of the smart fare rollout was supposed to happen this year

Smart fare card readers are being installed on ETS buses for passengers to use on regional transit systems. (ETS Operations)

The rollout of smart fare for all Edmonton transit users will be delayed until 2021, a city spokesperson confirmed Thursday. 

The paperless system for buses and LRT was supposed to start this year.

But that is no longer the case, with the city now targeting next year.

"The end goal is to have everybody in by the end of 2021," city spokesperson Tarra Kongsrude told CBC News. "But it depends on what happens with how it rolls out."

On Thursday morning, the city's website about next steps for smart fare said the system "will be pilot-tested in 2020, with full regional rollout planned for later that year."

After CBC News inquired about delays, the city's website was changed Thursday afternoon to say the system design would be completed in "the upcoming months" and pilot-tested "in fall 2020."

The City of Edmonton's website said Thursday morning (top) that the smart fare system would have a "full regional roll out planned for later" in 2020. The information changed after CBC News made an inquiry about delays. (CBC)

An Edmonton Transit Service Facebook post from October said "riders will be able to tap on/tap off with their Smart Card in early 2021."

Kongsrude said the website was changed Thursday because the city wanted to be "extra cautious that everything rolls out as it is meant to."

"In 2021, we are anticipating people will be able to tap on top off but not necessarily everybody because they're going to be rolling it out by group types. And they're still trying to decide how they're going to do the group types," she said.

The smart fare system will first be piloted by high school and university students and seniors, Kongsrude said.

The system will also be tested in St. Albert, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove and Beaumont.

The pilot results in those areas and Edmonton "will determine when the system is made available to a wider range of customers," Kongsrude said in an email.

She said consultation with different groups has led to some changes in the project's timelines.

"The information, as we get it, we put up on our website," she said. "It will be changing over time as the situations occur."

Phased implementation

Once operational, smart fare will be phased into Edmonton's transit system, according to the city's website and Kongsrude. 

In the first phase, customers will be able to use "a smart fare card to tap on/off transit and pay a flat fee for their trip," it says on the city's website.

Later on, customers will be able to pay for a bus ride using a credit or debit card or a cellphone in the seven participating municipalities. 
Smart fare readers are expected to be installed on all city buses by this spring, according to a city spokesperson. (Facebook/Edmonton Transit Service)

The installation of the tap machines on city buses should be completed by this spring, said Kongsrude.

Infrastructure for fare vending machines is also being added to all LRT stations.

Validators have also been installed on St. Albert and Strathcona County buses.

The pilot testing will start soon after installation is complete in Edmonton, said Kongsrude. 

Smart fare delays

Edmontonians have been waiting several years for the system to roll out. The 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. 

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

Kongsrude said more details about the progress of the smart fare system will be made available within the next couple of months.