No cash for bus fare? That’s no longer a problem if you need a ride in Frederick County, Md.
TransIT, the county’s public transportation system, launched ezFARE, a mobile bus ticket purchasing app on Jan. 1. The app lets users buy tickets using a mobile device, and present the ticket on-screen to bus drivers to validate the fare.
Adrienne Moretz, community relations manager for TransIT Services of Frederick County, told Government Technology that cash had been the only payment accepted for bus fare since the early 1990s. So the county knew it needed a more convenient and technologically advanced payment option for people, but it didn’t want to invest in the infrastructure needed for a swipe-card system, which led to the decision to embrace mobile ticketing.
“Our demographic is an 18- to 35-year-old average rider, so we have the younger [riders] who are more frequently accustomed to using a smartphone,” Moretz said. “We also do a tri-annual survey that showed that 60 percent of our passengers have access to the Internet. So we knew going into it that we would have a significant amount of our riders that would at least have the ability to use the mobile app.”
TransIT worked with TripSpark Technologies on the app and had a prior relationship with the company, as the county uses TripSpark’s system for its paratransit operations. It took a little less than a year to design and develop ezFARE, according to Moretz. TripSpark takes a small percentage of each fare as payment for the app.
The development took some time because TransIT wanted to look thoroughly at all aspects of its fares and make sure the app was specifically tailored to Frederick County users, Moretz added. But now that it’s active, TransIT is seeing some initial success, despite students still being on break.
Approximately 30 users downloaded and registered the ezFARE app in the first week, and Mortetz noted that they’ve sold “a lot" of public and senior reduced-fare tickets.
Users can download the ezFARE app on Android and Apple devices from the Apple Store and Google Play Store, respectively. From the app’s home screen, a person can buy passes, activate and use passes already purchased. Options include general public tickets, senior and disabled tickets, and youth/student discounted fares. Choices also exist to buy a one-day pass, a 10-trip ticket, a 20-trip ticket, a 30-day pass, or pay for route deviations.
Once a ticket is activated, the user shows the app to the bus driver, who validates the ticket in three different ways.
First, the time and date is accurate to the second – a continuous, rolling time ticks by on the ticket. In addition, there’s a color border around the screen that, when presented, flashes a color specific to the day so the driver can easily confirm the ticket's validity -- and that it's not a screenshot; it’s an active, moving image. Finally, the mobile ticket has a small box on the phone that displays what the phone’s camera is capturing. So a driver can wave his or her hands in front of the camera lens to make sure it is active.
“I think the verification process and how we make sure the mobile tickets are real … is different than some of the other mobile ticketing options in existence,” Moretz said. “We also chose to bypass the QR or barcode reader, so we truly have no infrastructure. The ticket is the smartphone.”
In the case of reduced tickets, the app has a pop-up notification informing users that they will be required to show ID, so the driver knows the discounted fare is legitimate.
While TransIT and the county are pleased with the ezFARE app’s launch and early performance, there are additional enhancements to come. Moretz explained that TransIT is currently working on an option for potential or existing passengers to go online using a computer to purchase tickets and send them to a mobile phone, similar to what Fandango offers for movie ticket buyers.
“We think it will be helpful in situations such as a parent sending their student back to college, but they aren’t personally with them but would still like to buy the bus tickets,” Moretz said.
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.