NJ Transit took the first steps toward getting a fare card of its own Wednesday, which could be in the hands of riders by the end of 2024.
The digital chip card would provide a higher tech way for riders who now pay fares using paper tickets or cash.
The agency’s board approved a $2.5 million, two-year contract with Giesecke+Devrient of Germany to provide the physical fare cards. A spokesman said the agency plans to have cards available by the end of 2024.
The chip cards would provide tap-and-go payment on buses and can be read by scanners now used on NJ Transit trains. The card is designed to serve riders without bank accounts who couldn’t use the mobile app, which requires tying the account to a credit or debit card.
“The main value is for a lot of people who can get that at local stores,” Kevin Corbett, NJ Transit ‘s CEO, said of the physical cards. “It will be very easy to do.”
Riders will be able to buy the card and add value to it at retailers, he said. While the agency still offers paper tickets, they account for less than 50% of NJ Transit’s ticket sales, he said.
One criticism, that the card isn’t compatible with New York City Transit’s OMNY card, was mentioned by one rider commenting at the meeting. PATH also is moving to a new fare card that would be compatible with the OMNY system.
Corbett said NJ Transit explored that option.
“The Port Authority went one way. We looked at it, it was something we were open to, but they have their own system that didn’t include us,” Corbett said. “It will be like E-ZPass, over the years it took a while to evolve (to be widely accepted). We’ll get there.”
However when it’s complete, NJ Transit’s tap-and-go system will function like OMNY for passengers using chip equipped debit and credit cards, officials said.
One advocate said they agency shouldn’t be so quick to ditch cash.
“We have reservations. Paying cash is universal, is private and doesn’t require dedicating funds to one particular business or agency,” said Sally Jane Gellert, chairwoman of the Lackawanna Commuter Coalition.
Transit advocates also are concerned that fare cards make it difficult for senior citizens to get a federally mandated fare discount without going through a process, which on some agencies, is convoluted and requires in person office filling visits or out forms.
NJ Transit sells discounted senior tickets in ticket vending machines and on its smartphone app. People that buy them do have to provide proof of age on request.
A federal statute requires senior citizens to get a discount fare by showing a Medicare card, and a photo ID as proof of age. The Lackawanna Coalition had previously opposed fare cards for this reason.
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Larry Higgs may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.