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Cashless fare sits well with MBTA rider

A bus driver climbs out of his bus at Central Square Station in Lynn.
(Spenser Hasak)

BOSTON — It’s going to be a lot harder to use cash on the MBTA, but that’s OK with frequent rider Paul Miller.

Miller, who was interviewed while waiting at the Central Square MBTA station to catch a commuter rail train to Boston, said going cashless should improve service.

“I buy a monthly pass and never use cash,” he said. “But I do see people who pay with cash and I’m sure that slows everything down. Removing toll booths from Massachusetts roads has eliminated congestion where motorists had stopped to pay tolls, so this should help.”

MBTA officials take a similar view, saying a new initiative will be a major step toward simplifying fare collection and improving service.

Under a proposal approved by the T’s governing this week, customers will be able to pay fares by tapping debit and credit cards at fare gates and boxes. The new system will also allow the use of apps such as Apple, Android, and Samsung Pay. In addition, the system includes a fare card, similar to the CharlieCard.
“This isn’t just the next generation of fare collection, but an entirely new way our customers will interact with the MBTA,” said Luis Manuel Ramírez, T General Manager in a statement.

Riders would no longer be able to pay cash when they board buses or trains. But cash customers could still buy fare cards from vending machines at T stations and retailers. About 7 percent of riders use cash, officials said.

The new system will allow all-door boarding on the Green Line and on buses. Additionally, accessible fare gates will be five inches wider than the current gates while standard fare gates will be seven inches wider.
The contract awarded to a consortium that includes Cubic Corp. and John Laing Group, two international companies that build transportation networks, is expected to be implemented by 2020. followed by a retirement of the existing system in 2021.

Dubbed a public-private partnership, there are cash incentives for the contractor to ensure the system works, with risk-sharing agreements for the financing, and a requirement that the contractor perform system maintenance over the 10-year agreement.
The T said benefits of the new system include:
* Faster buses and Green Line trains: Shorter lines and reduced boarding times.
* Tap everywhere: The ability to tap and board the same way on buses, trains, commuter rail and ferries.
* Use of smartphone or contactless credit card: Travel without a fare card by tapping with credit cards or smartphones. Even if customers tap with a smartphone, they can reload using cash.
* Pay before boarding more easily: Get a new fare card or reload at fare vending machines located in all subway stations and at some bus stops, as well as select retail locations.
* Account management: Customers can check their balances, access travel history, reload or replace a lost card online, or by phone through the MBTA’s call center.
* Accessibility improvements: The system will be designed for accessibility needs.

“To be clear, we still have much work ahead to involve our customers, stakeholders, and members of the community to ensure we all realize the benefits of the new system,” said Stephanie Pollack, Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in a statement.  “But this is a major step forward in our partnership with the Cubic-John Laing team to completely transform and modernize our system of fare collection.”
Material from Associated Press was used in this report.

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