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Transit Fare-Payment System Boon to Students, Route Efficiency

A new contactless fare-payment system at Santa Maria Regional Transit in California is also making rides free for students at the local community college. The change has made the system more efficient on several levels.

A person paying for a ride with Santa Maria Regional Transit using their smartphone.
A rider with Santa Maria Regional Transit in California uses a smartphone to access digital ticketing technology.
Submitted Photo: Modeshift
Riders on a California Central Coast transit system now have a digital, touchless fare-payment system that brings other improvements like trip-planning and free or reduced fares for some riders.

The Santa Maria Regional Transit (SMRT) network has launched a new fare-collection system that includes a mobile application, opening the door to contactless payments while also making rides free for students.

“While SMRT is not a pioneer in smartphone application digital bus passes, it is leveraging this technology to forge new partnerships such as one with our local community college,” said Gamaliel Anguiano, general manager for Santa Maria Regional Transit. “With the SMRTpay app, all local college students are automatically sent a bus pass upon enrollment. The mobility aspect is being taken care of with just one click so that students can focus on their education.”

SMRT has contracted with Modeshift as its technology partner for the cloud-based digital infrastructure, fare-readers and vehicle tracking.

“The goal of a flexible and easy-to-use transit management system is to make transit more attractive, predictable and accessible. You know when the bus will come and can pay your fare the way it’s easier for you. Our goal is to make public transit as easy to use as Uber,” said Miroslav Katsarov, CEO of Modeshift.

As Anguiano pointed out, digital ticketing for transit services is not new. However, these developments have taken an added urgency since the COVID-19 pandemic refocused an emphasis on contactless transactions, which both maintain safety protocols while also saving money and increasing boarding efficiencies.

“The real value in smartphone bus passes to a transit agency are the safety and logistical ones,” said Anguiano. “For example, not having to process cash and coins at a time when coin availability is in short supply is of uncalculated value to a rider.”

“Then, there is of course the fact that digital bus passes serve as a means to mitigate the spread of germs and disease by reducing physical interactions,” he added.

Also, supply chain disruptions which have become so common to everyday life have complicated matters for transit agencies relying on paper tickets and other related equipment, said Anguiano.

“The freedom that digital bus passes bring means that transit agencies can be less reliant on physical bus passes and their shortcomings,” he added.
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.