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Metro plans to roll out new smartphone payment app later this year

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Pay for buses and trains with a smartphone

View of Metro subway station
The new app will allow riders to plan trips and pay for rides on trains, buses, and bikes.
Yusef El-Mansouri | Shutterstock

Metro riders may soon have a new way to pay for trips on Los Angeles trains, buses, and shuttles: through a smartphone app.

Instead of swiping a TAP card, as most passengers do now, users of the new app will be able to simply scan their phones to pay a fare. The system is expected to be ready for testing this summer, with a full rollout planned for the fall, says Metro spokesperson Rick Jager.

Will the new service come with a fare hike? Not according to Jager, though Metro is also planning a few changes to its ride payment structure, including an increase in the price of a new TAP card (they would cost $2 instead of $1) and the elimination of ride tokens.

Instead, users of the app may be in line for some additional perks. In announcement Wednesday, Cubic Transportation Solutions, which is developing the app with digital consultant Vertiba, notes that promotions will be available for frequent riders.

Jager says these might include incentives for users choosing to ride public transit on smoggy days or a system by which riders could earn points or “medallions” when paying for trips.

The app will allow users to purchase rides on buses and trains operated by all 24 of the LA-area transit agencies that accept payment through the TAP card. Additionally, users will be able to use the service to pay for Metro’s new bike share program and even certain ride hailing services (Metro is now mulling its own “microtransit” system similar to Uber or Lyft that would provide users with on-demand rides).

Incentives could also encourage those using the app to take multiple modes of transportation. For instance, Jager says a discount might become available for a bike ride after a user pays for a transit ride. Other incentives could encourage riders to take new routes or forms of transit.

Passengers will also be able to plan trips using the app, which will provide real-time updates on when buses and trains will be arriving at a particular stop (though Metro’s estimates aren’t always the most reliable).

Metro isn’t the only transit agency experimenting with mobile-based payment systems. Similar smartphone programs are now being developed for transit systems in New York, Boston, and Atlanta.

In London, riders on the city’s buses and trains have been able to pay fares with smartphones for several years—though payment is issued through third-party apps like Apple Pay.

More locally, riders on the Metrolink commuter rail can now purchase and download tickets through the Metrolink mobile app. Last month, Metro began installing optic scanners at gated rail stations so that users of the app can easily transfer to local trains and buses.

Such systems may eventually phase out physical payment cards in some cities (New York plans to discontinue its MetroCard system by 2023). That’s something that may be concerning for riders without smartphones—or bank accounts, which would be linked to Metro’s app.

According to Cubic, those in the latter group would have to load up their accounts at TAP vending machines and certain businesses, as most riders do today.

“I can’t say there will always be a TAP card,” writes Jager in an email to Curbed, “but very likely for the near future TAP cards will be around because not everyone has a smartphone.”