Equity and Exclusion Issues in Cashless Fare Payment Systems

Many transit agencies in the United States plan to automate their fare collection and limit — or even eliminate — the use of cash fares, with the goals of expediting boarding, collecting data, and lowering costs. Yet about 10% of US adults lack a bank account or credit card, and many rely on restrictive cellphone data plans or do not have access to the internet or a smartphone. These riders will find it difficult to access transit in the future.

This paper examines transit users’ experiences with fare technologies using a survey of riders in three cities. The analysis reveals which riders are most at risk of being excluded, and how mitigation strategies could work to overcome barriers to cash-less transit. The authors find that a significant number of riders (∼30%) currently use cash onboard buses. If onboard cash fares were to be removed, a significant share of these riders appear able to switch to other options, though many imagine they will continue to use cash in some way (e.g. at retail or ticket vending machines); a small number claim they would no longer be able to ride transit if onboard cash fares were removed.

Older and lower-income riders are more at risk of exclusion as they often lack access to smartphones or the internet. A significant number rely on less dependable internet sources, such as public Wi-Fi, potentially inhibiting some from using smartphone and internet-based payment systems. Findings suggest approaches to reduce the number of riders excluded from transit during fare technology adoption.

Learn more by reading our article, “Equity Issues in Cashless Fare Payment.”