Nashville MTA may get new fare payment system

Nashville MTA’s system for paying fares is out of date.  That’s no surprise to anybody who’s ridden the transit system recently.

But according to Dan Freudberg, Director of Service Quality at the MTA, an entirely new fare payment system may be coming in 2 to 3 years.  They’re quite aware of all the problems the system is having, he said.  The transit agency has received funds from Mayor Barry’s office to study the implementation of a new payment system.

Among the improvements that Freudberg thinks we’ll see in a few years are mobile app payments, contactless fare payment, better acceptance of credit and debit cards, and partnerships with local retailers around town.  He made the comments during a public meeting about service changes today.

Some of the problems relate to how to buy fare cards in the first place.  Currently, the only place to buy a pass or fare with a credit card is at the ticket window at Music City Central (MCC), the main bus station.  There are no retail partners selling tickets, the MTA doesn’t do instant online sales, and the agency has not placed any fare vending machines anywhere but at MCC.  And even those fare vending machines don’t accept credit (or debit) cards anymore, despite having a slot for them.  So to buy any fare or pass with a credit card, MTA customers must visit the customer service window at the station, and engage in a lengthy purchase process that seems to take at least five minutes — and that’s only if there’s no line.

Freudberg said that the MTA has been having technical trouble processing credit and debit cards at the fare vending machines, which is why that functionality has been disabled.

And MTA’s customer’s are also not fans of the outdated fare cards.  They’re just a piece of flimsy card stock with a magnetic stripe.  Some riders would like to see a contactless fare payment system, such as Atlanta’s Breeze Card or Seattle’s ORCA Card:

With such cards, riders simply tap the plastic card against the fare box when boarding the bus.  In some cases, riders don’t even have to remove the card from their wallets because the fare box can read the card right through it.  Already, high school students at Metro Nashville Public Schools use a contactless fare payment on the MTA: they simply tap their school ID card (which is also their school library card) on the fare box and wait for the beep.

Freudberg said he is hopeful about the implementation of a new, improved fare system.  So are many MTA customers.

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