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Transportation Roundup: COTA Says Mobile Payment Will be Ready by Fall

Brent Warren Brent Warren Transportation Roundup: COTA Says Mobile Payment Will be Ready by FallPhoto by Walker Evans.
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A long-delayed upgrade that will make it easier and more convenient to ride a bus in Columbus will roll out soon, according to the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA).

COTA started installing new fareboxes on its buses in the fall of 2017. One of the selling points of the new technology was that it would allow for mobile payment, and COTA representatives said at the time that by the end of the year, customers would be able to pay for a bus ride with their cell phone.

The new fareboxes were installed, and a certain subset of users – downtown workers who qualify for the C-Pass program – have been using them to scan their phones for boarding for over a year, but that capability was never extended to all customers.

Although no firm date has been set, COTA spokesperson Jeff Pullin said that mobile payment is now expected to be available by “early fall” of this year.

At its July meeting, the COTA Board of Trustees approved an incentive to get people to sign up for the service – one free ride for anyone who registers and loads funds onto a COTA Connector account (the money can either go onto the mobile app directly or onto a physical card).

“The development of Connector took longer than we initially anticipated because we are developing the first-ever account-based fare card/app in the country,” said Pullin. “There has been incredible effort to make sure this is rolled out in a way that will benefit our customers and will be easy for them to use.”

Still in the planning stages is an app that would allow users to both plan trips and pay for multiple transportation modes all in one place. Called the Common Payment System, Smart Columbus is leading the development process and has said that a 2020 rollout is likely.

In other COTA news, the agency recently released a new strategic plan, designed to “share what the community can expect from COTA over the next five years.” A summary and link to the full report is available on COTA’s website.

COTA also was recently awarded a $2.6 million federal grant that will go toward new electric charging stations and the purchase of an additional electric bus. COTA plans to add at least ten electric buses to its fleet by 2021.

The two-week trial of a dedicated bus and bike lane on Third Street downtown started on Monday and runs through August 2. A Facebook page has been set up to solicit opinions from cyclists and other users about the experiment. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is also looking for feedback.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is also looking for opinions on its Walk.Bike.Ohio plan, which it calls the agency’s “first plan to focus on walking and biking policies and programs around the state.”

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