Flint, MI—The Flint Mass Transportation Authority has plans to modernize how riders pay for trips next year.

“We are starting a complete overhaul of our fare collection system,” said Harmony Lloyd, COO of Flint MTA. “We are going to be moving to a tap card system.”

The COVID-19 pandemic created an urgency for Flint MTA to invest in a contactless fare collection system, Lloyd said, which she believes will help drivers and passengers feel safer while creating fewer touch points during rides.

The transportation authority’s current system uses cash or paper passes only.

“We’re very old school style,” Lloyd said, smiling.

While the MTA did make other changes during the pandemic—like installing barriers around bus drivers and adding an automated securement system for wheelchairs—Lloyd said tap cards speak to the MTA’s longer-term vision.

“We were seeing other systems talk about contactless fare, and how that would not only improve transit, but modernize it,” she said, later noting that Flint MTA looked more specifically at The Rapid in Grand Rapids, Mich. and TARC in Louisville, Kentucky when considering its plan. 

(Image courtesy Flint MTA)

A shift toward contactless fare collection has already been happening in many major cities across the United States as well. 

Mass transit users in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City can use contactless fare cards, credit cards, and even phone apps to pay fare on certain modes of transportation.

While Lloyd said the new system will be limited to cash payments and MTA-issued chip cards, she did note another benefit of those cards: fare capping.

“What will happen is, (riders) will have an account,” said Lloyd. “And as they put money on their account, even if it’s $1.75, that money will be adding up.”

Currently, a monthly bus pass for Flint MTA is $55—an upfront cost that could save regular riders money in the long run, but also may be a cost they cannot afford to pay upfront.

“And when (the rider’s account) hits that amount of a monthly pass—that $55—it will, by itself, without them having to do anything, convert to a monthly pass,” she said.

Fare capping is not possible with the MTA’s current system, said Lloyd, so the chip cards will mean greater equity for riders who can’t afford that “lump sum” for monthly passes.

While the MTA is now in the contracting phase with the company that will install its contactless fare collection equipment, Lloyd was hesitant to give a timeline for the new system.

“We don’t have an exact date just because we know of the supply chain issue,” she said. “We ourselves have not been told that there’s going to be delays, but across the transit industry, they’re seeing delays in everything.”

Lloyd said she estimates that the new system will be in place by late 2022, and stressed that the MTA will accept cash payments even after implementation. 

Once operating, contactless payment will be in place across the Flint MTA bus system as well as its ‘Your Ride’ and ‘Rides to Wellness’ programs.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....