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Las Vegas Transit Upgrades Fare Payment to Tap-and-Pay

The upgrade makes it easier for residents and tourists to pay for transit service in the region. The new payment system now works with major credit cards, freeing them from downloading an app or buying a paper ticket.

A man boards a Sahara Express bus.
Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre
Riding public transit in the Las Vegas metro region is now as easy as tapping a credit card. The transit system is the latest to adopt a fare payment technology that doesn’t require a paper ticket, an e-ticket or cash.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) has upgraded its fare payment system to an “open payments” network, allowing riders to tap their contactless credit card, or mobile device like a phone or watch, at a card reader as they board a bus.

“Our goal at the RTC is to make the rider experience one that is safe, accessible and convenient,” said Catherine Busche, director of government affairs and media relations at RTC.

Fare payment systems like this one are especially appreciated by the millions of out-of-town tourists who visit Las Vegas. It means they do not have to fish around for money as they board, nor do they have to download an app to access an e-ticketing platform.

“It is very important for us as a popular tourist hub to offer open payment to visitors. If they do not need to download an app or purchase a paper pass, it removes a barrier to entry, enabling them to use RTC transit more easily during their stay in Las Vegas,” said Busche.

Riders can pay with any number of credit cards ranging from Visa to Mastercard, as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay, say officials with RTC's technology partner Masabi.

Technology upgrades in the fare payment process are both rapidly evolving, and have a direct impact on the rider experience, say industry insiders.

“We’re going to continue to see that ecosystem growing,” Audrey Denis, strategy manager at Cubic Transportation Systems, said in an interview several months ago.

"In the immediate term, in the next few years, we’re going to start to see the evolution we’re already seeing,” she added, calling attention to the integration of payment systems among various mobility providers.

Cubic is the technology company supporting the open payments system across the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City. The company has also introduced fare-capping — where riders are no longer charged beyond a set amount — across a number of transit networks. It’s but one of the changes transit agencies are leaning into as they work to regain ridership lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in Las Vegas, transit officials plan to monitor data from the improved payment system and other areas to better understand how changes like these are driving behavior and ridership, which is trending up. RTC posted third-quarter ridership in 2023 up 16.4 percent, compared to the same quarter in 2022, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

“Our goal in launching this feature is to make fare payment more accessible to a wider range of customers,” said Busche. “We intend to monitor and analyze the data based on customer behavior and incorporate that into our planning as we modernize our fare collection system.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.