The Spokane Transit Authority is proposing a new fare system that would ensure riders never pay more than they need to.
The proposed policy, which the STA Board is expected to consider in January, also would allow contactless payment through mobile phones for the first time in the transit system’s history.
Customers also would be allowed to manage their accounts from anywhere online and add cash to their STA Smart Card or mobile phone.
The transit authority also plans to roll out a new suite of discount options for various riders.
The changes are meant to encourage more people to use payment methods like Smart Cards and mobile phones and rely less on cash, which takes longer to insert into the fare boxes aboard STA buses.
The more customers slowly insert coins or dollar bills, the more delays STA buses and their riders experience. That doesn’t mean STA will eliminate cash payment as an option, but STA will try to make it easier for riders to pick an alternative.
The concept of fare capping is essentially to ensure a rider always gets the best deal available to them based on how often they ride the bus.
Under the new fare capping system, a rider would never pay more than $4 – the current cost of a standard day pass – even if they ride 20 times in a day. And if a rider uses the bus 25 times in a month, charges would max out at the $60 cost of a monthly pass for a standard rider.
The pay-as-you-go system – implemented through Smart Cards and mobile phone payments – also would save customers who pay for a monthly pass only to end up using it a handful of times.
“Nobody has to figure out which pass they should get, because you’re just deducting that $2 or $1 (for a reduced fare) from your account each time you ride the bus,” Brandon Rapez-Betty, STA’s director of communications and customer service, explained in a presentation to the Spokane City Council this month.
Though some have pushed STA to eliminate fares, including Spokane City Councilwoman Kate Burke, the agency has no plans to do so, Rapez-Betty said.
Fares traditionally account for about 20% of the service’s annual revenue, although that figure has dropped in recent years. During the pandemic, fares were temporarily eliminated to allow passengers to board from the rear doors and avoid close interaction with drivers.
STA also plans to offer a new 50% discount to active military members and veterans. The same discount would be offered to young people from 13 to 18 years old.
Passengers from 6 to 12 years old would be allowed to ride for free, but they would still have to use a fare card.
Under the new plan, students in an educational or training program would be eligible for a 20% discount regardless of what institution they attend. Under the current system, schools and colleges are required to sign up for the program and offer the discount to its students. That would no longer be the case.
Most college students still would be eligible for free rides under STA’s Universal Transit Access Pass Program.
As it asks more customers to pre-load cash onto a card, STA wants to offer them more physical locations to do so. By partnering with a gift card company, STA hopes to bring more retail outlets on board with its service.
STA is asking the public for input on its plan through an online survey, which can be accessed at surveymonkey.com/r/STAFareSurvey.
Although a vote on the plan is expected in January, it likely would not begin to be implemented until October of next year, Rapez-Betty said.
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