Why don’t I take the bus more often? Part 2

Earlier this week, I wrote that I’d be more likely to take the bus if there were easy-to-read route maps posted near bus stops. (Or anywhere. Even the online map is terrible.)

Here’s another reason I don’t ride the bus very often: cash.

More specifically, it’s my recollection from the last time I rode the bus about five months ago that in order to pay for a single ride I need exact change. Of course, I could buy a longer term pass or, as I learned recently, bus tokens.


A bracelet made from a bus token

But because I live in a walkable community my need for the bus is sporadic and irregular. I don’t need a pass and I’d almost surely lose tokens before using them.

So I need to pay for single trips, which is really hard because I can’t do it with a credit card.

I know I’m not alone in this either. In large part, people under the age of 35 or 40 rarely carry cash anymore.

The downside, however, is that when we need or want to ride the bus many of us don’t have exactly $2.50 in cash for the fare. Even worse, no ATM will dispense a couple of ones and two quarters; unless the bus driver has change for a $20 bill (which she/he won’t), we’re out of luck.

Like the route map problem, this is a relatively easy thing to fix. For example, buses could be equipped with card readers. Or, machines similar to those at TRAX stations could be deployed in areas where there are a few bus stops. These options would have some cost, but if they were done correctly (including marketing) an increase in ridership — which I believe would be significant over the long run — should off set those costs. And of course the collateral benefits of fewer drivers would be many.

A UTA bus in Provo. I used to live on this bus' route, but only used it a couple of times.

A UTA bus in Provo. I used to live on this bus’ route, but only used it a couple of times.

Finally, I realize that complaining about the lack of credit card readers on buses is what some might call a “first world problem” (though I hate that phrase). And it’s true, it’s not the biggest issue in the world and the individual burden is on the user to make the system work.

But the goal, I think, is to get as many people riding transit as possible. That means making it as easy as possible to use for all different types of people. Though some people don’t “struggle” with only using credit cards for transit, it’s a shame that we’ve basically built an entire transit system that ignores the growing demographic that does.



  1. blogger

    If you have an NFC-enabled credit card (has a WiFi-looking symbol on the front or back), you can tap that on the bus’s card reader. UTA’s been doing this since 2009.

  2. Leo

    UTA buses have been equipped to accept credit cards for payment since 2009. If your credit card is NFC-capable (it has a wireless symbol on the front or back), then you tap it on the card reader at the front of the bus and go on your merry way. UTA has done a tremendously poor job advertising this, but there you have it.

  3. jimmycdii

    Interesting, I didn’t know that and didn’t see it on the bus. Also, I didn’t know about NFC cards—my don’t have that symbol and I asked around just now and no one else’s did either. Is there some specific bank that does these? Any idea how widespread they are? My impression is not very, but that’s based just on the people I know.

    • Leo

      Seems like I’ve inadvertently posted two comments for each of your last two blog posts. My bad. You can delete the first ones I posted for each post.

      I know that new Wells Fargo credit cards all come with this technology. I’m not sure about other banks. Some of my friends are members of other banks/credit unions and have NFC cards. I guess your best bet would be to contact your bank.

  4. Alan Peters

    I use the tap on feature all the time on the bus and it’s awesome, When you get on the bus it’ll charge you for the bus fare, and when you transfer to the Frontrunner it’ll only charge you for the difference between the Frontrunner fare and the bus fare, so you don’t have to pay twice as you would if you were using cash.

    My Wells Fargo credit card has NFC, but my WF debit card does not (although I seem to remember my old one having NFC). I’ve also seen some people tap on with their cellphones.

  5. Laura

    I also had never heard of NFC cc – something I’ll have to ask my bank about. And Leo you’re absolutely right -UTA has done a terrible job of advertising it. I’ve even asked two different bus drivers from one of my somewhat regular routes what options other than cash there are, and no one ever said I could just use a cc – they always said I had to get some sort of pass, which they didn’t know where I could purchase them and I don’t think I ride often enough/far enough to make it cost effective. So, I always use cc at the kiosks if I get onto trax/frontrunner first, which those tickets are good for any bus transfer. But getting on the bus first is always kind of a hassle because I have to have cash. Though, Alan, you don’t have to pay twice when using cash, you still just pay the difference. If I have bus ticket first, then arrive at Frontrunner, I just select the option that says something like “transfer from local” at the kiosk which deducts the $2.50 I’ve already paid. Then I just to hold onto the bus transfer slip and the frontrunner ticket.

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