Denver Is Still Waiting on a Modern Fare Payment System From RTD

Ever been riding an RTD bus, anxious to get to work on time, and the bus comes to a stop for what seems like forever while a passenger boards? That Guy is counting out $2.60 in exact change and the driver can’t pull away until he’s paid the fare, so everyone gets held up.

Not ready for primetime. Photo: David Sachs

Other major cities like San Francisco and Chicago have modern fare technology that takes care of this problem. Riders can store money on farecards that let you board the bus with a simple tap. It’s not only more convenient than carrying around bills and coins, it also saves bus riders a lot of time by speeding up the whole boarding process.

RTD is working on updating its fare technology with the “MyRide” card, which has been in the works since 2008. Eight years and $21 million later, MyRide is still in pilot phase limbo.

Since January, RTD has distributed 1,890 MyRide cards in a limited release. I have one of them, and it’s clear the system is still not ready for primetime.

The problem is not the card scanning technology. In the eight months since I got the card, only one time did it fail to scan as I boarded a bus, when the card reader malfunctioned. (The driver gave me a free ride.)

What’s holding the system back is the absence of an online system to add money to the cards. Without that system, using a MyRide card just isn’t that convenient. In the latest chapter of an eight-year saga, RTD can’t seem to get the web portal up and running.

“There is an overabundance of caution and double-checking to make sure proper security is in place, because this is the first time ever that RTD will be storing our patrons’ money online,” said RTD spokesperson Nate Currey. There’s no solid timetable on when the MyRide system will be fully functional and ready for the general public, Currey said. According to agency documents, the “web portal has cyber security vulnerabilities” that need to be addressed [PDF].

Since there are no online accounts, right now you have to go to one of just four RTD stations to load money on a card: Boulder Junction, Downtown Boulder, Union Station, or Denver International Airport. I work in LoDo so Union Station makes sense for me, but those stations aren’t convenient for everyone.

Once you’re at a kiosk, you have to wait in line and add value to the card by paying a human clerk. The process has taken me as long as 10 minutes, more than enough time to miss a bus.

Without an online system, the only way to know how much money is on your card is to catch the balance when it flashes across the card-reader screen on buses and at rail stations. If you don’t catch the split-second display, or if you go a couple of weeks without using RTD, it’s easy to forget your balance. On more than one occasion, I wasn’t sure about my balance and rather than risk an insufficient fare, I chose the sure thing and opted for Car2go.

A functional online system would enable people to add value to their accounts and check balances from their computers or mobile devices. MyRide could finally scale up and serve everyone in Denver who wants to use it. Imagine how much faster and more reliable bus service would be if all those people could board with the tap of a card, and digging around for change becomes a thing of the past.

  • Greg Costikyan

    In San Francisco, you can reload your Clipper Card at any Walgreens. Surely RTD could make a similar deal with a local merchant?

    • enguy

      At the very least, it should be possible to reload a card at any ticket vending machine. That shouldn’t have as many major security concerns, and they’re located all over the RTD service area.

  • Charles Buscemi

    this is ridiculous. This technology already exists all over the world. Just copy some city that has this working, the end.

  • John Riecke

    Or use our phones, or the GoDenver app?

    • mckillio

      Easy now. That will be another decade and $20m.

      • neroden

        Well, you’re ahead of SEPTA. (The subway uses tokens. The trains use hand-punched tickets of a 19th century design.)

      • Janina Martin

        Haha! sadly true. Any update on this? I am returning to Denver after living in Seattle for 2 years where they have had a card system for at least 8 years. Will be hard to go back to paper methods for me. bleh

  • mckillio

    The fact that this hasn’t been fully implemented yet. I’ve been getting a monthly pass for over four years now and this system is terrible. I have to go online fill out my info and then they mail it to me, through the MAIL. If I happen to forget my pass there’s no way for them to look up if I’ve bought a pass, so you get a ticket.

    Up until this year I’ve gotten an email reminder every month to purchase my pass, this year it just never came, twice. So I’ve had to go to a physical location to buy it, get it five days after the first of the month, still full price.

  • Chris

    Why do we need to create a whole new system? Why can’t we copy DC, NYC, Chicago, San Francisco or another transit agency? This might be a weird concept, but what would happen if we had the exact same system as DC for instance and we could use our cards in DC? I know this is a hard-to-understand concept, but $21 million could have done great things other than work on an imaginary card system for RTD.

    • Donald Zuchowski

      rtd like to be first in the nation at being delayed like the a line, being first in the nation to piss people off, 1st to be late and all other things

  • Camera_Shy

    Why can’t I use my Visa or M/C to pay as I board the bus? Proximity readers for credit cards are everywhere, no? Why does there need to be a whole ‘nother set of cards and readers!?!

  • Devin Quince

    I am sure this is a mistake because RTD has BRT, right? /Sarcasm. RTD is about 10 years behind other transit agencies.