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First To Test Metro’s Reduced Fare Gateway Card

July 9, 2018 Featured, Public Transit No Comments

In February 2014, on a trip to Chicago, I used my first contactless transit card. It took a few times to get used to it but it was far easier than paying cash and deciding if I needed ro pay up front for a 2-hour transfer. If I bought a transfer, I had to keep track of it. With a contactless card there’s no problem paying the bus fare while wearing gloves. No fumbling with bills & coins. Just tap & go. My post from February 2014: Contactless Transit Smart Cards. I’d already contacted Metro St. Louis about being a reduced fare tester.

Metro was supposed to have such a system in place in St. Louis by then, but other cities, including Chicago, experienced huge problems when launching their contactless cards.  Other delays happened tooo, but Metro has been cautiously slow.

From April:

Metro has been working on the smart card system for more than eight years.

It’s part of a $31 million project that also included replacing fareboxes on all 400 of Metro’s buses, replacing or modifying ticket vending machines and validators and technical upgrades.

Metro in 2011 had said the card system would be launched by 2013. Later the targeted launch date was changed to 2015. That also wasn’t met.
Officials blamed the delays on the complexity of integrating disparate systems on moving buses and trains and with bus fareboxes. (Post-Dispatch)

I’ve been pretty patient as the months & years passed by. In November 2015 I applied for a reduced fare Ventra card for use in Chicago. It arrived in the mail the next month, prompt9ing me to write Reduced Fare Smart Card For Chicago, Still Waiting On St. Louis.

In late 2017 I saw Metro’s now-retired Executive Director, Ray Friem, at an event at North Hanley.  He explained the many pages of problems they’ve worked through and the few that remained. One issue was different vendors for bus fareboxes  and a different one for MetroLink fare gates.

Earlier this year testing was opened up from a limited number of riders to sort of a public beta test — but still only full fare. I was getting inpatient. In March Friem promised me I’d be the first reduced fare tester. He was right, 3 months later I got my card!

Standard fare cards are blue (top), reduced fare cards are red.
The back of my husband’s full fare card includes tow card number and where to call Metro. The back of my card includes my name & photo as well as card number — only the person assigned the card can use a reduced fare card, I’ve blurred both card numbers.

I’ve now used the card 7 times — on both MetroBus and MetroLink (Light rail). My very first time using the card was on a #10 bus as I headed to an appointment with an ophthalmologist. It didn’t work. I tapped again, still didn’t work. The 3rd time it didn’t work the bus driver indicated to just wheel back to my spot so she could get going. I emailed the time, bus route, and bus numbers to the person at Metro I’d been working with for months to get this card.

I managed to board the one bus, out of 400, that had a defective reader. Since then it has worked flawlessly, including a bus to MetroLink transfer last week!  As these cards are still in testing mode, all the bells & whistles aren’t yet up & running. I can’t open an app on my phone to check transactions, balance remaining, or add funds. Can’t logon from my home computer either. I can check the by calling the number on the back of the card; I can also check the balance or add funds by visiting the Metro Store at 8th & Pine, or at a Metro ticket machine.

The Metro Store in the Arcade Bldg, as seen from the SW corner of 8th & Pine
The machines at MetroBus centers & MetroLink stations have a reader you can tap your card to add funds, passes. or just check your balance.
This day I checked my balance, $10.75 matched my spreadsheet.

A Spreadsheet? Yes, I thought this was the best way to track my use and confirm the card is working.

Because no app is available, I created a spreadsheet on my phone using Apple’s Numbers app. This allows me to track the balance of my card.

This also helps me when I’m using Metro because the time will let me know the window in which I can use again at the transfer rate — exactly 2 hours.

The other way to check the balance is to call the number on the back of the card. At first I’d call and thought something wasn’t working. Unlike Chicago, the bus data isn’t sent in instantaneously. it’s downloaded from each bus when it returns each night. The call-in system may not know my card balance at any moment because of this, but the card itself knows. Don’t think you can exceed your balance because the bus hasn’t downloaded yet — it doesn’t work that way.

I’m told in a few months myself and others can begin testing the online portion. This will allow the autoload of passes or funds. I don’t use passes, but I love the idea of having it automatically charge a credit card I have on file whenever my balance reaches a minimum threshold.

Aside from the one faulty bus reader, everything has worked fine. I’m looking forward to helping test online functions. I’m really glad I no longer need to carry a coin purse with $1 bill & quarters! As a result of the new convenience I find myself using transit more than I would have if I still had ro use cash or 2-hour passes.

— Steve Patterson

 

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