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.

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