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.

Filed Under: RTD