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Big Blue Bus to Take Cash Again

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By Jorge Casuso

April 14, 2022 -- Big Blue Bus (BBB) passengers can begin using cash again this summer after the City Council on Tuesday reversed a unanimous vote last September to only allow "contactless" fares.

Councilmembers had rejected lifting the cash ban, opting instead to make it easier for riders to obtain fare passes, despite concerns the move could impact seniors, the disabled and the homeless.

The reversal Tuesday was one of several policy changes approved by the Council and came after two-thirds of customers surveyed in February opposed the cashless system implemented last July.

“The fare policy changes were developed with significant input from our community, and promote safe, convenient, and equitable access to our system,” said Ed King, director of the City's Transportation Department.

The changes approved Tuesday include accepting both regular and Senior/Disabled/Medicare Metro 1-day passes and permanently reducing the price for Youth 30-day passes to $19.

The Council also raised the age children can ride the bus for free, from four to five years of age, and discontinued the use of BBB paper passes and tokens, although the passes will still be accepted on TAP and mobile ticketing.

The changes approved Tuesday will go into effect on June 22, marking the end of a one-year pilot program to transition to a contactless payment system.

Transit officials say the new fare system has worked, with 94 percent of BBB customers having transitioned.

The transition "has helped make buses safer and more hygienic for customers and Motor Coach Operators, while improving bus boarding and travel times," transit officials said.

When the pilot program began nine months ago, King acknowledged the change could adversely impact low-income passengers whose numbers had grown since the coronavirus shutdown ("Big Blue Bus to Stop Accepting Cash, Fare Cards; Could Impact the Poor," June 25, 2021).

These customers "are now living in more concentrated areas of high poverty than in the past" and "are also more likely to live in concentrated areas of recent past COVID-19 infection," according to King's July report to the Council.

The cornonavirus emergency declared in March 2020 accelerated the move away from cash and fare passes, which accounted for 53 percent of all boardings before the shutdown.

In his report, King said that accepting cash payments under the old system added as many as 13 additional minutes for every 40 passengers that boarded a bus.

"These delays cause slower service that decreases ridership, increases costs, and makes transit less attractive," the report said.

After the cashless system was met with resistance from some bus riders, the Council revisited the issue on September 16.

But after expressing reservations, it voted unanimously to keep it in place ("Council Rejects Resuming Cash Payments on Buses," September 16, 2021).

"Moving away from cash could be a good thing," said Mayor Sue Himmelrich but added she doesn't "like the idea people feel left out."

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