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COTA Rolling Out New Fareboxes, Mobile Payment Coming Soon

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Rolling Out New Fareboxes, Mobile Payment Coming SoonPhoto by Brent Warren.
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The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) is testing out a new farebox that will allow riders to pay for a bus ride with their cell phone. The new boxes will be on all buses before the end of the year, which is also the time-table for rolling out the mobile payment capability.

Here’s how it will work when it is up and running: first, you download the free COTA Connector App and set up an account, which you can either add money to or use to buy an unlimited pass. Within about five minutes, the app will generate a QR code. When you place your phone with the code over the sensor on the farebox, it registers the trip or subtracts the cost of the ride from your account.

The new fareboxes have other features, like “tap and go,” which will enable riders with senior or other discounted cards to simply tap the card instead of swiping it.

“That will really speed up boarding for our regular customers, who won’t have to swipe or use a second card,” said Micheal Carroll, COTA’s Chief Information Officer.

A visual display tells the user if the card has been read, and if it doesn’t register, an automated voice tells you to try again.

Eventually, a new “smart card” will be integrated with the system that will also utilize the tap and go feature.

“Today, you have to come to a ticket machine or the (COTA) office to buy a card,” explained Carroll. “This is an account-based system, so after you get the initial smart card, you can log in from home and add money or products…then you don’t have to come back.”

The plan is for the new smart card to eventually be integrated with other transportation options in Columbus, like Uber, Lyft, CoGo and Car2Go, a key goal of the Smart Columbus initiative, which also calls for neighborhood-based kiosks where people could buy the cards using credit cards or cash.

“We are working closely with Smart Columbus people; they are looking for a common payment system and a multi-modal trip planner,” said Carroll, adding that COTA’s smart card will be ready for roll-out mid-2018. There’s no time-table for integrating it with the other systems.

The mobile payment and smart card options will both allow for the implementation of a “guaranteed lowest fare” system that would automatically charge customers the lower amount based on how much they’ve travelled.

“We’re recommending to move forward with the best fare policy,” said Carroll. “Today, if you ride three times and you pay cash, you pay six bucks, even though it’s only $4.50 for a day pass. So this system, when you scan your phone, it will know you’ve already paid four dollars, so the third time it’ll just deduct fifty cents from your account, and you’ll be good for the day.”

Lisa Myers, Public and Media Relations Manager for COTA, said that they’ll be promoting the new mobile payment option and hope to see an increase in ridership as a result.

“I think convenience is something that people want today,” she said. “We’ve added real-time tracking recently, we have WiFi on the buses, so this is another thing that really helps out with that convenience factor and makes riding the bus even better.”

Additional Reading: COTA Considering Fare Hike for 2018

For more information, visit cota.com.

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