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Pennsylvania Transit Embraces New App to Streamline Travel

Transit providers in Berks and Lancaster counties have upgraded fare payment and other technology to better enable contactless transactions amid a larger push to improve safety and convenience for riders.

two city buses with a motion blur effect
Residents in several small cities in south central Pennsylvania can now ride transit buses with greater ease by using a new app-based digital ticketing system, as well as trip-planning and bus-tracking tools. 

Transit agencies large and small have been increasingly willing to adopt enhanced technology as they navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant decline in ridership in many cities.  

“We see a lot of opportunity here to start a program that shows the benefits of smart technology, with transit,” said Miroslav Katsarov, CEO of Modeshift, a transit tech company providing digital ticketing and other services for the South Central Transit Authority (SCTA). 

SCTA supports several transit organizations across Berks and Lancaster counties. Together, the network operates more than 200 transit vehicles, serving some 5.1 million riders annually. 

The new system offers account-based fare collection with a reloadable card, trip planning, real-time ridership reports and contactless ticketing. The tickets can be accessed via smartphone or a conventional paper ticket with a printed barcode. And, of course, cash payments are still accepted, said Greg Downing, director of operations for the agency.  

However, riders have quickly taken to the new technology, he added, noting roughly 90 percent of riders are now using the products.  

“Using Modeshift, customers have a number of ways to be contactless on the bus, including buying passes and validating the fare using your cellphone,” he explained. “We planned and executed a marketing campaign to explain the new payment option and how it works, signed up and assisted customers in downloading the new technology, then took time explaining the benefits and safety during this pandemic.” 

Complicated, multi-year technology projects are often too daunting for small transit systems, which is why proposals requiring little in the way of development, implementation and in-house technology expertise are more easily embraced by smaller cities.

The new system in Pennsylvania was rolled out, in part, as a tech solution to help beef up transit’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.  

“During the pandemic, our leadership team and executive director were thinking of different ideas to reduce COVID-19 exposure,” said Downing. “Actions such as putting driver barriers on buses, hand sanitizer stations near the front and back doors and HEPA filters on all buses, spoke to our commitment of safety on our vehicles during this pandemic.” 

The Modeshift technology, which allows for a more contactless experience, was seen as an extension of these preventive measures, he added. 

“Depending on the specific case, some people are kind of encouraged to proceed with their contactless plans because of COVID… That’s a major boost that’s provided by the situation,” said Katsarov. 

Similarly, in Dayton, Ohio, transit officials recently turned to transit tech company Masabi to introduce an app-based ticketing system, which also ensures that a customer’s fare is capped at $3 per day or $30 per month — equal to the cost of a monthly pass. The technology integrates into the Transit app, which offers trip planning and integration with other modes like Link Dayton Bike Share, Spin, Lyft and Uber. 

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.