RTD’s Long Awaited Smart Card Will Make Tentative Debut January 1

This is how RTD's website marketed the smart card in 2012. At the beginning of 2016, it still won't be fully available to the public. Image: RTD via Wayback Machine
This is how RTD’s website marketed the smart card in 2012. At the beginning of 2016, it still won’t be available to the general public. Image: RTD via Wayback Machine

Some transit systems have had smart cards — fare cards that passengers can add, store, and spend money on — for decades. Not so in Denver, where eight years have passed since the quest for modern fare-payment technology began.

Drumroll, please: The wait is kind of sort of almost nearing an end.

On January 1 RTD will launch a smart card pilot in which 913 people can test the fare technology, branded as MyRide. The pilot was originally intended to be 5,000 people, but RTD officials decided to take baby steps in order to fix any glitches.

“As soon as we are at a stage where we feel comfortable moving onto the next wave, we will start the recruitment up again,” said Georgann Van Gemert, a marketing executive with RTD.

The MyRide card, at least during the pilot, will only somewhat resemble modern fare technology. For one, users won’t be able to load money on the cards at automated machines. They’ll have to exchange money with an RTD agent at a retail booth, who will then load the card with funds and return it to the passenger. (But don’t worry, this means you can pay with a check. Seriously.)

Smart card systems often let users check their balance and load money online, but that won’t be the case during this MyRide pilot. “We have not gotten very far into the process of building [the online component] yet,” said Van Gemart. “We’re kind of in the planning stages right now. But we anticipate sometime next year. And yes, it is a crucial part of the pilot, but it’s going to be brought on board as an enhancement.”

To keep the pilot manageable, passengers will only be able to refill their cards at five stations: Civic Center, Boulder Junction, Downtown Boulder, Union Station, and DIA.

This pilot is actually RTD’s second. The first included about about 250 RTD employees. Van Gemart said that the pilot revealed no technological glitches. Most problems came from unclear communication with the passenger about how the card works, she said.

Modern fare technology is not an extravagance. It’s supposed to streamline the passenger experience and make transit intuitive. If done well, smart cards — and their contemporary cousin, mobile ticketing — can improve on-time performance and entice more riders.

Which is why the general public and some members of the RTD Board of Directors are growing impatient. Board Chair Chuck Sisk, for example, was under the impression that after so many years of waiting, MyRide would go completely live on January 1, the same day that fare and service changes commence. In November, Sisk chided RTD staff. According to board meeting minutes, he “noted that if we are not ready for implementation by January 1st, like he was expecting, that we go ahead and say it.”

This article incorrectly stated the retail station at DIA would not open until April. It will open when the program goes live in January.

  • HumanInDenver

    While this is much needed service, the issue is smartcards are pretty much already outdated . Some transit providers in Europe have moved toward completely mobile-phone based ticketing and payment.

    • Mr H.

      Agreed.
      But to be fair, David has echoed this exact sentiment several times here.

    • neroden

      But in Europe, they actually give free mobile phones to everyone.

      Here, mobile phones are EXPENSIVE. If a provider had completely mobile-phone-based ticketing and payment, you’d have a lot of people just riding without paying, and they’d be quite right to do so.

      • mckillio

        Just because you offer a smart phone solution doesn’t mean it has to be the only solution. And you can get phones with NFC for less than $50.

        • neroden

          $50 is way too much for access to the bus system. WAAAAAAAAAY too much.

          My response was to the line “completely mobile-phone based ticketing and payment”. You CANNOT do this. Mobile phone can be an option. It cannot be the only option.

      • MyOpinionIsMyOwn

        You…you know about the Obamaphone program right?

      • Bernard Finucane

        >But in Europe, they actually give free mobile phones to everyone.

        No they don’t. Where did you get that information?

  • rorojo

    Imagine a card automatically loaded pretax each month out of your paycheck or you can load on the series of tubes called the internet. Witchcraft!

  • dave

    Currently CDOT allows us to view real time traffic speeds and webcams on highways throughout the state and pay tolls with automated transponders. But if I want to find out when the next bus will arrive or pay my fare with anything but quarters and dollar bills, I am out of luck.

    • neroden

      Dollar coins? 😉

    • Kayla

      Yeah, try looking at RTD schedules and Google schedules, split the difference, and get there early to watch your bus leave early and wait another 20 minutes for the next bus to be late.

  • neroden

    *headscratch*. I assume they’re going to put automated buy-a-card machines in the stations sometime after the pilot?

  • Chris

    I have not clue what transit agencies sometimes think? NYC, London, D.C., Dallas all have way smarter systems. Does RTD enjoy being the last person to the game? Can they not go and visit another transit agencies and pay to replicate the same thing without study after study and wasting millions in tax payer dollars? If they think they’re going to make the worlds best transit ticketing system they’re out of luck. The world is already decades ahead of them. We’re going to be getting a Smart Card from the 1990’s and mobile ticketing of the 2010’s is going to make it to RTD in 2030. I’m glad I have an EcoPass. Otherwise they would be getting a call from me every single day with complaints.

  • Charles Buscemi

    this is idiotic. Just copy/buy some other working system from some other town that figured it out and move on. This is archaic and only pushes ppl away from transit.

  • Kinda pathetic. I also thought they were going to have the bus tracking system available so you could see where any bus was in real time. Saves having to wait at the stop too long, which would likely attract more riders.

  • Kayla

    Meanwhile other transit users in other cities are buying transit fare with their mobile phone, automatic deductions from their paycheck to their smartcard, or online with a credit card… less than 1k people in Denver are refilling their SmartCards by cash and check at limited locations…

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