Flint, MI — The Flint Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) will launch a new fare payment platform in early 2024.

“Our hope is to improve the customer experience and remove the payment barrier,” said Paul Mattern, Chief Development Officer for Flint MTA.

Meant to pair with the MTA’s coming tap card technology, the new internet-based platform will start as a mobile application that allows riders to create an account and pay for trips from their cell phone instead of purchasing paper fare cards or paying with cash.

Mattern said that app is currently in beta testing, but it will be available for riders by late January or early February 2024.

“It’s more than the app,” Mattern said. “We’re rolling out the app first. Eventually there will be a tap card, and eventually open payments — like a debit or credit card.”

He noted that all upcoming phases of fare payment options will be manageable through the new platform, which is intended to support “best value” or fare-capping, for riders who pay as they go.

In explanation of how best value will work, Mattern gave an example of the MTA’s monthly pass, which costs $55 currently.

He noted that not every rider can afford a single $55 purchase at the top of each month, so they instead “pay as they go,” which can end up costing more than $55 per month because the MTA can’t track and total individual cash purchases.

“[Under] our current system, we can’t offer cash users any kind of discounts because we lack the technology to be able to do that,” Mattern said. 

But the new platform will help solve that.

In the app, fare payments total up in a user’s account, Mattern explained. So, once they spend $55 in a 30 day window — whether that happens within two days or 29 — their account will automatically scan as a monthly pass, effectively saving them from continuing to pay for trips beyond that $55 mark for the month.

“So, without you doing anything, that system is just going to give you the best value,” Mattern concluded.

Paul Mattern, Chief Development Officer for MTA, demonstrates how MTA’s upcoming payment app will scan on terminals inside busses at the MTA Transit Center in Downtown Flint, Mich. on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

Ahead of the app’s launch, the MTA is also working to create a new department to support riders adopting the coming technology.

“We’re kind of creating a ‘fare payment customer service department’ around this whole operation,” Mattern said. “So that we have some people who are … subject matter experts, because this is such a large change to the way consumers will be able to pay for their bus trips.”

In the meantime, MTA staff and select riders are spot-testing the app on regional bus routes to help the developer work out any kinks and anticipate questions before the app goes public. 

Mattern said the “primary goal” of introducing the new fare payment platform is to create more accessibility and equity for all MTA riders.

“If people are underbanked or not banked, this platform allows you to turn what you would have [done] with your cash into transit dollars in this account, so that you can achieve those benefits that previously only people who bought passes could achieve,” he said.

Following the app’s launch, MTA tap cards will also pair with the online payment platform for those who prefer to reload and scan a card instead of using the app’s QR code.

MTA tap cards were originally promised in late 2022, but supply chain issues for the chip technology within them pushed that date back. Mattern said he believes the MTA’s tap cards will now be available by fall 2024.

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....

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