MyRide: Why Can’t RTD’s Tap-to-Pay Card Reload Cash Automatically?

Only 1% of RTD customers use MyRide. In the Bay Area, 53% of transit fares are paid with a similar card.

RTD's MyRide tap-to-pay electronic fare payment card.
RTD's MyRide tap-to-pay electronic fare payment card.
Passengers bought paper tickets from a kiosk Monday at Union Station. Photo: Andy Bosselman
Passengers bought paper tickets from a kiosk Monday at Union Station. Photo: Andy Bosselman

Since I moved to Denver from the Bay Area last November, I’m still surprised and annoyed that the Regional Transportation District’s tap-to-pay card, known as MyRide, won’t automatically add value when my balance gets low.

Meanwhile, San Francisco’s Clipper Card will “autoload” anytime its cash value falls below a set amount, like $10. Then the system automatically charges the user’s debit card, topping up Clipper with a user-defined amount, like $30.

It’s great, I never had to think about it nor, worry whether the card had enough value for a trip.

Streetsblog looked for MyRide card users Monday at Union Station. Over half an hour hundreds boarded trains but nobody tapped. Just 1% of riders say they use MyRide. Photo: Andy Bosselman
Streetsblog looked for MyRide card users Monday at Union Station. Over more than 30 minutes, hundreds boarded trains but nobody tapped. Just 1% of riders say they use MyRide. Photo: Andy Bosselman

But in Denver, I rarely have any idea how much cash is on my card. Boarding a bus, I’m often fumbling with the MyRide card, my wallet, sunglasses and maybe my phone, too. I also try to move quickly so that others behind me can board.

In these rushed moments, I squint at the little display on the bus validator, but getting a good look at the tiny, dark screen isn’t easy.

When I have spotted my balance and needed to add cash for my next trip, I make a mental note to take care of the task when I get home. But I’ve never once remembered to do so.

By the next time I hop on a bus, I’ve forgotten how much cash is on the card. Then I tap. And the validator makes that awful noise of shame, indicating to everyone around that I’m not good to go. Next, I step to the side and pull up RTD’s terrible, barely functional hot-mess of a mobile app to pay my fare.

Autoload isn’t the only thing missing from MyRide: You can’t put monthly passes on the card, either. But you can buy one, on paper. And you can still get 10-packs of tickets, on paper.

Isn’t that innovative?

In Union Station, RTD monthly passes and ticket packets are available from kiosks. They are only available on paper. Photo: Andy Bosselman
In Union Station, RTD monthly passes and ticket packets are available from kiosks. They are only available on paper. Photo: Andy Bosselman

With MyRide lacking essential basic features, I wondered how many people use the card — and it’s even less than I expected.

About one percent of RTD riders use MyRide to pay their fare, according to Laurie Huff, an RTD spokesperson who consulted the agency’s 2017 customer survey.

My own observations backed up how few people use it: On Monday, I spent about half an hour hanging out at Union Station and didn’t see a single person use a tap-to-pay validator.

Compare that to the Bay Area, where riders used the Clipper Card for 53% of all transit trips in January, according to Mark Prado, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which runs the Clipper Card program. And even though its website is out of date and nearly impossible to figure out, 30% of the people who have registered their cards on the site use autoload.

Electronic fare payment is critical because it accelerates boarding times. When one person fumbles around with cash and coins for a few seconds, it may not seem like a big deal. But it happens often among RTD’s more than 300,000 daily boardings, adding up to many hours of delays across the system every day.  

MyRide validator screens are difficult to read in daylight. The smaller screens in buses are even more difficult to see.
MyRide validator screens are difficult to read in daylight. The smaller screens in buses are even more difficult to see.

Since taking this job, I’ve been to several press conferences where Doug Tisdale, RTD’s board chairman, and Dave Genova, the agency’s CEO and general manager, brag about how innovative the agency is.

There’s the robot bus. The agency put its timetables in the Lyft app. It partnered with Uber, even though the company admitted that it wants to wipe out “usage of public transportation.” (And now we know that ride sharing companies degrade public support for transit.)

But these “innovations” are not useful to most transit users. If the agency wants its customers to think it is innovative, it needs to get the basics right:

  • MyRide should have an autoload feature.
  • MyRide should allow monthly passes.
  • Mobile tap-to-pay (Apple Pay, Google Pay) and credit card tap-to-pay should be allowed for fare payment, making fast payments possible for tourists and infrequent users. 
  • Validators should be put on both bus and rail vehicles, for a consistent experience across the system.
  • All-door boarding should be allowed, with validators available at every door of every vehicle.
  • Bus stops should include electronic displays that show when the next bus will arrive.

RTD has no plans to upgrade the MyRide card, according to Huff. But the agency is looking at upgrading the system with different technology.

  • Wren Paasch

    This is why I load my card in quantities of fares – I don’t say, put ten bucks on it; I put the $2.80 fare x 4, so, $11.20, or something like that. Otherwise I’d never be able to keep track. When the fares increased at the start of the year I was like, “Sh*t, now I gotta figure out how short I am and add money… “

    • Camera_Shy

      Even so, one needs to keep track of how many times the card has been used so that one knows when to reload it. If I have to do that, then it really doesn’t matter if I put a round number of fares on or not, eh? In the example given, putting $12 or $11.20 gets me the same result, no? You are right, though, the whole thing definitely lacks excellence. 🙂

  • TakeFive

    even though the company admitted that it wants to wipe out “usage of public transportation.”

    LOL, Bruce Schaller’s whiny interpretation of free market competition is sad. It’s like complaining about airplanes because they compete with Amtrak. A financial analyst he isn’t. That why Google and Amazon do what they do and why he sits around and complains about how unfair life is.

    • TakeFive

      Speaking of the primary topic which is low-tech transit agencies, specifically RTD.

      RTD has no plans to upgrade the MyRide card, according to Huff. But the agency is looking at upgrading the system with different technology.

      Now that has my interest and I look forward to learning what they ultimately decide.

  • Roads_Wide_Open

    They are working on upgrades, but it’s still a couple years away.

    • TakeFive

      Haven’t followed the industry but I’d have to assume by now that there’s much improved systems that can integrate various functions. Sounds like it could be expensive but a newer system that functions seamlessly has to be worth the investment.

  • mckillio

    I actually hate having to put a balance on something, it’s why I don’t use Lime’s services. Just charge me whatever it costs by charging my associated card or paypal/venmo.

    But I do agree with the other points. The default should be tap to pay through the app and it’s insane that the app doesn’t support 10 packs and monthly/yearly passes. I also find it strange that there isn’t a small discount for buying a round trip ticket up front, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

    RTD literally can’t get out of its own way.

    • Wranger

      You actually save 20 cents per fare when you use the My Ride card.

  • enguy

    The most perplexing thing to me is how difficult it is to get a MyRide card. In basically every major city other than Boston (where subway station agents have stacks of them that they give out), you can get a reloadable card and put money on it at ticket vending machines.

  • Kevin

    Another fun thing about MyRide cards; After you load additional money onto them it won’t show in your balance until the first time you used the card. I loaded $20 a few months back and had to call customer service because 2 weeks later it still wasn’t showing on my card balance when I checked it on the website. The customer service guy blew my mind by saying it wouldn’t appear in my balance until the next time I swiped the card on a bus or such.

    I’m pretty sure most of their IT infrastructure was built by high school interns.

    • Emmeaki

      The same thing happened to me the first time. It makes no sense! So happy that my job provides a monthly card now and I don’t have to deal with these things!

    • Camera_Shy

      No way, high school interns would be much more adept at coding such a system.

      Problems like these usually turn out to be that the people who design the system never actually use the system, so they have no idea other than to meet the requirements. Thus, they don’t know how to implement, or don’t realize they are not implementing, a value-added system that is functional too.

    • Wranger

      I totally agree that it’s frustrating to have to tap the card before knowing whether your reload has gone through. I’m always a little nervous when I tap it after reloading since I can’t confirm until I’m actually boarding a bus whether the money is there or not. You should at least be able to see on their website that the reload has gone through.

  • EMB

    I’ve had a MyRide card since they were first available, and have gotten pretty used to it in spite of its flaws. I’d say the biggest factor in why they’re so little used is that it requires real effort to get them. I’m not downtown every day, so it was a special trip to get the card (which seemed preferable to ordering and waiting a week for one to show up.) It’s nice that they’re linked to an online account so that I can reload from anywhere, but the 90s-era convenience of being able to get a semi-disposable reloadable card (like NYC MTA’s MetroCard) at any station is probably better even without the reload-online option.

    … on double-checking RTD’s MyRide info page, it looks like they did roll out distribution to the grocery stores where I used to buy 10-trip ticket books or occasional monthly passes before getting the MyRide card, so that’s a big improvement. Still not as good as being able to get them from machines at any rail station (if not every bus stop), but a lot better than the only Denver locations being either downtown or at the airport.

    I think they must have eased up on the ridiculously frequent password expiration, though. For a while it seemed like every time I reloaded my card, I needed to generate a new password.

    • Emmeaki

      When I lived in Cleveland, they had machines at every bus and train station for you to buy your fare card, so you didn’t have to go to a special place to get it. Same with the MetroCard when I lived in NYC. They need the same in a big city like Denver. If your trying to become a metropolis. you need the amenities that people are used to having in large cities.

  • Emmeaki

    The first time I got one, I loaded it expecting the money to be available right away, like in every major city I’ve lived in. After, I loaded it, I read the fine print that said it may take a few days to clear. Thank God I had money to use for the bus in the meantime since I had just moved to the city and was pretty broke. I then waited days and no balance was on my card. I called and they said that I had to tap the card before the balance showed up. WTF? How was I supposed to know that? Why would I try to tap a card if it said $0 balance when I checked online?

    I feel like Denver is in the Stone Ages with their transportation system, paper bus tickets and all! Don’t get me started on the trains, where they never check your fare, unless you’re on the train to the airport, where they interrupt you multiple times to check it. Why is there a monthly pass, but no weekly pass? You wouldn’t need these annoying MyRide cards if you could just buy a weekly pass and call it a day.

  • LazyReader

    Just bring back the old tokens………..

  • Wranger

    I’ve used a MyRide card since they first became available and find it to be a massive improvement over having to have exact cash change every time I wanted to grab a bus, which made riding on a whim or at the last minute impossible sometimes. It definitely has its flaws, such as not being able to see that your reload has gone through until you swipe it at a card reader, however it has made my life much, much easier. I bike most places I go, however, it is reassuring to me to see that card in my wallet just in case I need to take a bus due to a flat tire or snow.

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