NEORide Consortium Improves Accessibility and Passenger Experience
In just under two years, EZfare has expanded rapidly to include three states — Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, 14 transit agencies and three national partners – Transit, Moovit and Uber. As a result, EZfare and its partner agencies have sold almost $3 million worth of transit passes. So how did this happen?
One simple word. Coordination. EZfare run by a Council of Governments called NEORide, came together to provide a simple, easy to navigate, fare payment service that could be used across multiple counties and regions. Transit agencies have been able to leverage their collective buying power to procure a low-cost, high-quality mobile ticketing platform to the region that is utilized by systems ranging from small rural to large urban.
By partnering with Masabi, a leading international mobile ticketing provider, Mobility-as-a-Service has become a reality. Passengers have access to an account-based fare collection system for multiple transit agencies eliminating the need to carry cash or purchase tickets/passes at various locations. Passengers can pay for tickets using a credit or debit card, or via various digital wallets. Tickets are then stored in the apps secure “ticket wallet”. The system is designed specifically for public transit passengers in mind, meaning once a ticket is purchased it is available even without an internet connection, so riders are always able to travel.
Partner transit agencies have their own central back office to track ticket sales, access revenue reports, set rider type, amend fares and manage customer service requests. Third-party accounts can also be created for universities, social service agencies and employers to manage the distribution of transit passes.
To further enhance the rider experience, EZfare integrated with other national with MaaS apps, Moovit, Transit and Uber, that combine mobile ticketing and real-time trip planning. The goal is to allow consumers to choose their app preference while still allowing them easy access to public transit. By doing so, they created a ticketing platform that removed the need for passengers to carry cash or stand in line at multiple transit stations to purchase different fares.
Recently, Cleveland State University conducted a survey of EZfare users across multiple transit systems. Survey results indicated that over 95% of users agree that EZfare has made it easier and faster to purchase fares. The survey also looked at how COVID has affected passenger travel and concerns. Over 43% of riders confirmed that they were either moderately or extremely concerned with catching COVID-19 from other passengers. In addition, trips taken reduced by 1/3, reinforcing the reduced ridership we have seen nationwide. This information only strengthened the argument for a contactless payment system.
Through an FTA IMI Grant, NEORide/EZfare is working to expand its platform over the next few years to ensure that low-income, unbanked, underbanked, and disabled users have access to contactless payment. This need is highlighted with over 15% of transit users surveyed identifying as being unbanked or underbanked and almost 27% identifying as having a handicap. The grant (also partially funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation) is funding the addition of validators onto buses, stored value, fare capping, smart cards and integration with retailers and other third-party transportation providers.
Multiple transits in the EZfare system have already launched “Just Ride” or VAL-100 Validators across their fleet. The validators allow a contactless validation/payment system that is low cost to transit providers. Validators allow passengers to use the EZfare system by scanning a barcode on their mobile devise (and soon EZfare smartcards) to pay their fare. This new technology improves the speed of boarding the bus, reduces the demands on operators and allows integration with other payment options including college passes. Some transit providers in the EZfare system are considering these validators as a potential way to remove the need for expensive fare boxes and cash handling procedures.
As of July of 2021, EZfare now can load cash or funds onto their EZfare Account to use for future ticket purchases. These funds can be loaded in cash at any transit center or via the app with the use of a credit card. By September 1, 2021, retail sales locations including Dollar General, Family Dollar, 7-11, Kum & Go, Speedway, Walgreens and CVS will all be able to load cash onto EZfare Accounts.
EZfare Accounts are also available through Transit App and will be made available by the end of the year through Moovit and Uber. These partnerships create greater access to transit riders who prefer to utilize cash or do not have access to credit cards.
Beginning early 2022, riders without access to a smartphone will have the ability to purchase smartcards. Each card will be usable across all 14 EZfare agencies. Cards will be issued by transit providers, partner social service agencies, or ticket vending machines (TVM). Riders can then choose to reload cash at any time at these same locations or at the retail locations mentioned above.
Fare capping will be available among most agencies, removing the need to purchase multiple tickets for different transit agencies or decided what type of pass will provide the best value. Instead, each rider with an EZfare app (including partner MaaS apps) or smart card can simply tap any validators and ride all day. The Masabi system will then calculate the lowest cost option for that day or month and charge the user accordingly.
EZfare hopes to change the way transit users look at public transit from single entities to a regional system that provides the access they need to work, medical appointments and other destinations. This system will continue to grow as we add additional agencies, modes of transportation – such as bikeshare and Microtransit, and new technology such as EMV integration are added. By any measure, EZfare is a success that continues to grow, adapt, and change with new technology.