We need a regional transit fare card that works in N.J. and NYC, advocates say

Published: Nov. 21, 2021

While drivers have E-ZPass to let them pay tolls electronically, transit riders are still fumbling with tickets and fare cards — some dating back to the last century — that have limited use.

There was hope that baby steps could be taken toward a regional fare payment system -- that would work on mass transit in New Jersey and New York -- earlier this week, when the 13-mile PATH rail system approved almost $100 million to create a tap-and-go system and fare card. But those hopes have now been dashed.

While the Port Authority will use the same contractor that implemented the OMNY system on New York City subways and buses, officials said neither card can be used to pay fare on the other system, even though creating a regional fare card was a goal for the three agencies in the 2000s.

Port Authority officials said Friday they expect most passengers will use smartphone or chip enabled credit or debit cards to pay fares, instead.

“We’re going to have to look at that” said Rick Cotton, Port Authority executive director, when asked if a PATH card might someday work to pay NYC Transit fares.

Fare cards that work like an E-ZPass toll tag to pay fare on an agency’s trains, buses and light rail lines, and ultimately between transit agencies, are needed, transit advocates said.

“The region would benefit from a seamless user-friendly fare collection system that could be used across the multiple agencies: MTA, PATH and NJT,” said Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign deputy director. “This would be especially convenient for the N.J. into NYC commuter, who frequently utilizes the services of multiple agencies over the course of their trips during the day.”

NJ Transit is still developing its own fare card as part of a larger $114 million contract it approved with Conduent Transport Solutions in December 2017 to develop a collection system that would include eventually developing NJ Transit’s own fare card.

“At this time, it is too early in the development process to detail all the features and capabilities, such as interoperability or a deployment timeline for the new fare card,” said Jim Smith, an NJ Transit spokesman. “We look forward to the exciting new options and convenience an NJ Transit fare card will bring to customers, and will communicate those details publicly as soon as they are available.”

A fare card is a “critical component” of NJ Transit’s overall fare modernization program that’s underway, officials said. It started with adding onboard ticket validators on buses, a continuing rollout of handheld mobile ticket scanners for train crews, and installation of more than 550 new Ticket Vending Machines that have a contactless fare payment option, he said.

New York’s MTA plans to expand the OMNY card to Long Island and Metro North commuter railroads in that project’s second phase by 2023, MTA officials said in March.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), beat both NJ Transit and the MTA to a fare card that works across all types of transit in its system. The Key Card was launched in 2016 and phased out the use of tokens in 2018.

SEPTA’s Key Card can be used on commuter rail, subway and trolley lines.

“We need to make it as easy as E-ZPass to travel, not just across the Hudson River, but standards should be made to allow any future fare card development to allow for payment across the nation,” said Robert W. Previdi, a transit advocate and former MTA official. “We are in the middle of a Climate Crisis, we need to make transit an easy choice. New Jersey is in a unique position between NYC and Philadelphia to force the issue.”

NJ Transit has a highly functional smartphone app now. But working poor and economically disadvantaged riders may lack access to a smartphone, advocates said.

“While NJ Transit has put a lot onto its app, not everyone has a smartphone and it makes sense for them to have a seamless system that can do what E-ZPass does,” said Len Resto, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers president. “It should allow for a weekly, a fun pass, or a monthly pass -- even an annual pass to make things easier for riders.”

Transit agencies could increase ridership if is ticketing is less complicated, advocates said.

“The easier you make it for riders, the more revenue you’ll actually collect and the more incentives there are to use transit,” Resto said.

Other transit advocates are concerned fare cards make it difficult for senior citizens to get a federally mandated fare discount without going through a process, which on some agencies, is convoluted.

A federal statute requires senior citizens to get a discount fare by showing a Medicare card, and a photo ID as proof of age.

The Lackawanna Commuter Coalition opposed fare cards for that reason, including the proposed new PATH card, until the senior discount issue is resolved. PATH requires seniors to apply, pay a fee for the card and go through a waiting period, which is similar to what other transit agencies in the nation require.

“There is a huge problem with every fare card I encountered: they violate the federal statute by requiring seniors to pre-register in order to get half-fare,” said David Peter Alan, a retired transit advocate, who has ridden transit systems around the country.

PATH officials did not say how senior fares will be handled when a new SmartLink card launches. OMNY is supposed to expand fare options this year by introducing reduced fares for senior customers and riders with disabilities, MTA officials said.

NJ Transit cash customers can show a Medicare card and other identification as proof of age to get a half price fare which follows federal statue, Alan said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-22 03:33:38 -0800