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Central Ohio Transit Introduces Digital Fare System

Next week, the Central Ohio Transit Authority will fully roll out a new digital fare system. Riders can pay with an app or smartcard with money loaded on it. The system automatically caps what users spend in a month.

Contactless digital fare system on bus
Shutterstock/Makkkro
(TNS) — The Central Ohio Transit Authority's new digital fare system starts Monday, with fares capped at $4.50 a day or $62 a month, $2 fares valid for two hours, and 350 retail locations where riders can add money to their accounts.

Riders will be able to use a smartphone app or a COTA-issued smartcard to load money onto for fares.

COTA said many riders end up paying more than $62 a month when paying daily in cash. Many riders don't have the money to pay $62 up front for a monthly pass. This system tracks what they spend via smartcard or app and limits the amount they pay per month.

"People can still use cash if they want," COTA spokesman Jeff Pullin said.

Pulin acknowledged that it might take some time to educate riders about the new system. He said there's already been a soft rollout with the app.

"There's a learning curve on the retail end. We know that it will take some time to get them on board," he said.

COTA was able to add retailers who were already on two networks — VIDAPAY and VanillaDirect — so cash-only COTA riders can load their cash onto the Transit app or COTA Smartcard.

COTA rider Quan Snow, who lives in the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville neighborhood on the city's Near East Side, said he already has the app. Snow, 31, who was waiting for a bus Monday on North High Street near Broad Street Downtown, said he uses COTA to get to work at a Southeast Side bookstore.

"I don't think it's a bad idea," Snow said of the new digital system's fare-capping.

But Michel Norris, who was waiting in a bus shelter on South High Street near the Statehouse, said he's computer illiterate and wants to keep paying cash.

"It's something I can't comprehend," said Norris, 60, who said he is homeless. "I'm very intelligent. But when it comes to certain things, I just can't do it."

Josh Lapp, who chairs Transit Columbus, a public transit advocacy group, said he supports fare-capping. "It's been a concern of mine with the current system," Lapp said.

But Lapp said he wants COTA to make sure riders are able to maintain access to buses as COTA moves away from cash fares. "I think they are addressing those concerns," he said.

"Long term, we would like to see more infrastructure installed at major stops so people could load fare cards there," Lapp said.

Pullin said COTA will ultimately end paper passes, although no timetable has been set for that.

The COTA board approved the changes in September. It also agreed to cut fares on express routes during commuter rush hours from $2.75 to the standard $2 fare for uniformity.

Riders can download the Transit app from the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Once they do, they can open the Transit app and tap the "Buy" button, then follow prompts to set up an account and a payment method. The app will generate a QR code that riders can scan on buses.

Pullin said COTA employees and some riders have tested the new system.

Riders without smartphones can obtain smartcards at the COTA Customer Experience Center, 33 N. High St.

If a rider opens a new account between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, COTA will credit $4.50 within two business days.

COTA also is holding events where riders can also learn how to use COTA's fare system and set up an account. The first is scheduled at COTA's customer center, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 1.

For more information, go to https://cota.com/transitapp/.

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