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March 27, 2014

TriMet taps INIT for $30M electronic fare system

TriMet selected Innovations in Transportation Inc. (INIT) to begin designing the equipment needed for an electronic fare (e-fare) system serving the Portland metropolitan area in 2017.

Once TriMet’s e-fare system is fully implemented, riders will be able to choose from a variety of payment options: transit-only smart card, contactless bank card and a smartphone with Near Field Communications.

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“While we are dedicated to restoring service, we’re also focused on making the ride better and easier for our riders,” said TriMet GM Neil McFarlane. “The ability to conveniently and quickly pay your fare by simply tapping your card or device against an electronic reader is just one of the exciting benefits that come with e-fare and will, we think, encourage more people to ride.”

Along with payment options and convenience afforded by e-fare, TriMet is also looking at the possibility of daily and monthly fare caps.

“Right now you can purchase an adult monthly pass for $100 and take as many rides as you wish during that time period but it requires that upfront cost that some cannot afford,” said Chris Tucker, director of revenue at TriMet. “With what we are proposing for our e-fare system, you could pre-pay for the month or possibly pay as you go and once you reach a $100 cap, the remainder of rides in that month would be free.” For someone who rides every day, after day 20 the rides would be free.

The $14.3 million base contract with INIT covers e-fare equipment and inspection devices, customer web portals and 1.3 million smart cards. The transit system also recently contracted with INIT for a new radio system for its buses. The full implementation of that system is nearing completion.

The full e-fare system will cost up to $30 million to implement, which includes additional contracts such as civil construction for validator placement on rail platforms. The system is expected to increase revenue and reduce costs associated with ticket vending machines and cash collection processing.

TriMet’s account-based system will also provide payment protection. If a registered card is lost, a rider can cancel that card and the value remains in their account. Right now if a customer loses their ticket or pass, they lose the money and need to buy a new one.

Riders will be able to reload transit-only cards via phone, web or at retail stores throughout the region or by setting up an auto-load feature that adds money to their accounts automatically from their bank accounts. Those who don’t have a bank account will be able to purchase e-fare cards similar to gift cards at grocery stores and other retail outlets. This will improve access for everyone, especially low-income riders.

TriMet employees will begin internally testing the e-fare system in fall 2015 with the opening of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line. In 2016, the transit agency hopes to move to limited customer-segment testing and then launch e-fare systemwide in 2017.

TriMet’s goal is to make the e-fare system a regional system, allowing seamless transfers between TriMet buses, MAX and WES Commuter Rail trains, C-TRAN buses and the Portland Streetcar.

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