[UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: According to Metro’s press release, the machine will accept cash, debit and credit cards, but cannot make change. So it is useful to riders without exact change and also in possession of one of these cards. I made the change in the text below as well.]
— punkrawker4783 (@punkrawker4783) November 21, 2014
Metro is finally taking the first concrete step since ORCA of moving towards a cashless system, or at least one where the most congested bus stops don’t aggravate delays by allowing riders to pay cash on board.
Back in August, the Transit Fares Report announced this experiment:
We are installing a ticket vending machine on the Macy’s block in downtown Seattle to test market response and operating cost of this approach to off-board fare payment, to help determine if it can be a cost-effective way to speed buses through downtown Seattle.
Spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok added:
We want to know more about how the machine itself performs, its durability in this busy location, and how transit customers may use it. We are eager to get feedback from people during the pilot to determine if and/or how we might want to expand this type of TVM in the future. We want to know how this might compare to other approaches to reduce cash payment on board and whether they might be a good fit for future Third Ave. improvements.
Metro estimates that 10% of riders at this stop pay with cash.
By all means, Metro should learn all it can about deployment of these machines. These trials are an important step toward a faster system, as widespread deployment downtown would help buses in that corridor. On RapidRide especially, universal off-board payment and all-door boarding are plausible goals and would be transformative.
It would be nice, however, if there were stronger incentives to use the machine instead of pay cash. As it stands, the machine is great for riders that don’t have change and do have a credit or debit card. Otherwise, users must use an unfamiliar device to obtain fare media with in practice a smaller transfer window than a paper transfer. A ticket machine with a small discount would be a much more effective means of determining “if it can be a cost-effective way to speed buses.”