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Is Getting Rid of Cash Discriminating to Paratransit Passengers?

May 01, 2017
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As a society of purchasers, the use of cash is decreasing at an exponential rate. Currently, of all the purchases made, half of them are made with a plastic card. Does this mean that cash will disappear entirely? No. But, it is becoming apparent that consumers are becoming more comfortable not having to walk around with a pocket full of change and bills.

All of transportation – not just public transportation – is doing away with using cash. In many places, tolls are now using transponders to easily collect fares. Florida is going a slightly different route, using a camera that reads your licence plate to record how many times you get onto the highway and sends you a bill at the end of the month.

It’s not only easier to make sure fares are being collected, it’s also a cost saving device. A single person sitting in a toll booth might actually cost more money to collect cash than the money that is coming in. It’s starting to be the same in public transit. By switching to automated fare collection and embracing new technologies, Charlottesville Area Transit was able to reduce the number of people it used to count cash at the end of the day. All in all, smart cards and cashless faring is a very hot item in fixed route. But, how can paratransit take advantage of similar methods?

Paratransit is Completely Different

First, it must be noted that paratransit is a completely different animal regarding fare collection. Obviously, the usual way fares are collected is: someone gets on their preferred method of public transportation, pays their fare, and then they get off and, in some instances, they will also tap their smart card as they get off to calculate the proper fare, but then easily go on their way. (If the rider doesn’t tap off, they get charged a full fare instead of what they may have used, so it is in their interest to tap off.) This is easy because they are anonymous riders.

This simply isn’t the case for paratransit passengers. You need to know who your paratransit passengers are so you can complete the service – pick them up, know that you are picking up the correct person, drive them to their destination, and repeat the process on their return trip.

Furthermore, some do pay at the time of boarding, but many don’t have the ability to properly complete a transaction at the time of pick up. This is because 25-35% have a disability that prevents them from taking care of the cash or smart card.

What are Your Options?

Some of the fare options used for paratransit are:

  • Prepaid
  • Charging after trip is completed
  • Monthly invoicing (costly and time consuming)
  • Paying at the time of boarding

It’s already been discussed that paying at the time of boarding is an option, but isn’t heavily used. Monthly invoicing is even rarer because it is costly and time consuming, but in certain situations, it has been done. Historically, agencies (sheltered workshop, nursing home, seniors’ centre) like to manage the transportation of their users and don’t want to do monthly invoicing for these options.

This all means that the main two options are prepaid and charging after the trip is completed. They are very similar because there needs to be a bank of money in the account for either of these options to work. The most preferred method (by agencies and caregivers) is prepaid.

Prepaid is Preferred

As the name suggests, prepaid options take money directly out of your account at the time of booking. One of the main reasons transit agencies like prepaid options is because it lessens the worry for collecting fares. If it is done before, operators can focus on making sure the customer experiences the best trip possible.

Other entities (ex: caregivers) that take care of people using paratransit prefer prepaid options because it is easier for them to properly manage the account. It makes it easier for them to ensure there isn’t an issue at the time of the trip. When taking care of multiple people, it also makes sure that caregivers are managing the proper accounts – instead of a group monthly invoicing.

The use of prepaid trips and accounts gives the account financier the ability to set up recurring payments (monthly or auto-top-up) and the user can also take advantage of setting up recurring trips.

Cashless faring is the direction the industry (and the world) is heading. Now, we just need to make sure that our systems work for everyone.  

If you want to find out more, I’ll be speaking at the APTA Bus and Paratransit Conference on Tuesday May 9th at 9:30 am on a panel entitled “Technology in Demand Response” alongside Christian Kent (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) and Robert G. Ayers (Ayers Electronics). I’ll be speaking on the topic of “Is Your Cashless Faring Discriminating to Paratransit Passengers?” Don’t miss out. 

Jeff Zarr has over 30 years of transit experience and 20 years of project management experience in the public transportation industry, as well as providing Paratransit consulting services for over 100 Paratransit agencies across North America, Europe, and the UK. As the Industry Solutions Manager for Trapeze Demand Response, Jeff shares his Paratransit expertise and experience throughout the North American Demand Response industry.
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