In 2019, 13 small and mid-sized transit agencies across Ohio jointly adopted EZfare, a mobile ticketing platform that integrates with each of their systems. Working through NEORide, a non-profit organization supporting statewide public transportation, the agencies were able to negotiate a better financial arrangement by leveraging their collective buying power. They also could rely on NEORide to manage a complex technology procurement as well as a day-to-day project management that would be challenging for a small agency to oversee on its own. Today, EZfare is available on many transit systems throughout the state, including those serving metropolitan Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Sandusky, Toledo and Youngstown.
Fifteen transit agencies serving Ohio are members of NEORide, a non-profit organization that encourages cooperative agreements and coordination among its members, including orchestrating joint purchasing. Because many member agencies are small, they have limited leverage to negotiate with vendors and to manage complex new technologies.
In the mid-2010s, a number of Ohio transit agency leaders began to discuss the potential for riders to pay fares through a smart phone application. With mobile ticketing, riders could enjoy an easier payment process, and buses could reduce dwell time. Mobile ticketing could also eventually pave the way for integrated payments across Ohio’s various transit systems, making it easier for users to travel among them.
Many state transit agencies are small and have limited capacity to manage a complex mobile ticketing RFP. Agency leaders were also concerned that the costs could be high. By working through NEORide, they could collectively negotiate a mobile ticketing arrangement that could work for all of them.
In March 2018, NEORide issued an RFP for a joint mobile ticketing solution to be used by four agencies in Northeast Ohio: METRO in the Akron area, SARTA in the Canton area, Laketran in Lake County, and PARTA in Portage County. Each agency would retain branding within the new mobile ticketing app, while customers could use the app to purchase a ticket to ride on any of the systems.
Eleven applicants provided responses to the RFP, which was ultimately awarded to Masabi. Masabi later partnered with Transit App, a multimodal trip planning app, to provide EZfare on its platform as well. Launching in August 2019, EZfare now serves 13 agencies across Ohio (and one in Northern Kentucky).
To use EZfare, customers must first install either the EZfare app (built by Masabi) or Transit App. They can then purchase tickets on either app. When boarding, riders show the driver the ticket on their phones, which will have a unique visual identifier (drivers have been trained on EZfare). Later in 2020 several transit agencies using EZfare will install physical validators on buses so that drivers no longer need to conduct a visual inspection. NEORide was the recipient of a $3.3 million Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) grant that helped make this validator installation possible.
NEORide collectively pays $12,000 per month for ongoing maintenance of EZfare. There was no set-up fee, and it pays Masabi 7.9 percent of each transaction (including all credit card transaction fees). NEORide was able to negotiate a lower percentage rate than members would have been able to secure individually.
In addition to the ODOT grant, the EZfare project received an award of $1.9 million through the FTA’s Integrated Mobility Innovation Program. This leverages the money received by ODOT and allows for the expansion of EZfare to include smartcards, stored value and a regional fare (as well as the potential for adding private mobility providers in the future). Riders can load the smartcards at retail locations or ticketing centers, allowing those without smart phones to take advantage of the EZfare program. In July 2020, Uber and NEORide announced that an integration with Masabi will soon allow EZfare agencies to sell transit tickets within the Uber app.
Akron METRO made EZfare available in August 2019, and usage has grown steadily. Dawn Distler, Executive Director of Akron METRO, says that about 6 percent of the 16,000 daily trips her agency provided in March 2020 were paid through EZfare (at that time METRO paused fare collection due to the coronavirus pandemic). She says METRO has received negligible complaints about EZfare, but that it is too soon to speculate on the influence mobile ticketing may have on her agency’s ridership.
Distler cautions that collaborations like EZfare require lengthy timelines. “It’s always going to take longer than you think it will,” she says. She also recommends that a combined mobile ticketing procurement provide sufficient flexibility for individual agencies. For instance, EZfare provides the option—but not the requirement—that agencies can install validators on buses to take the place of visual verification.
For further information please contact: Art Guzzetti, APTA Vice President – Policy and Mobility at email@example.com.