Smart Fare will allow customers to pay for transit using a variety of methods. Strathcona County Transit (SCT) and partner transit providers in the region are acquiring technology that would allow for fare payment using credit cards, debit cards, and other compatible smart cards and smart devices with the system. The "tap and go" fare payment system will make paying for transit simple and it will also make travel across the region easier for customers, since one account could be used on all participating transit systems, including Strathcona County Transit, Edmonton Transit and St. Albert Transit.
Transit customers could set up an “account”, which would allow them to load value and other transit fare products. Then, customers would simply tap their fare card, credit card, or device at the reader as they board. Customers will still have the option to use cash in the fare box.
Smart Fare - project overview
The Regional Smart Fare project will see an electronic fare payment system implemented for Strathcona County, Edmonton, and St. Albert transit systems. The project also includes adding Smart Bus infrastructure for St. Albert and Strathcona County, which is needed to support Smart Fare.
A phased approach
In the first phase, passengers will be able to load value into a special account and use a transit smart card to “tap on/off” any transit system in the region. Riders can take advantage of fare capping, where transit trips are paid for one trip at a time; up to a daily or monthly maximum amount. If riders lose their Smart Fare card, they can replace it without losing their account credit or fare purchase. Loading the Smart Fare account is instant. Once riders add credit, they can use it right away.
In later phases, riders will be able to take advantage of “open payments” using their credit card, debit card or compatible device to ”tap on/off” the transit systems in the Edmonton metropolitan region.
The approximate timelines for the project include:
- June 2018: system design completion
- Fall 2020: system pilot testing
- 2021: full system deployment
New transit fare options
Smart Fare is a powerful tool that allows fare payment options that were previously not available or practical to implement. The proposed fare options being considered could significantly improve the transit experience for customers. They include: Fare Capping, Pay-As-You-Go, Distance-based Fares, and Best Fare. These possible fare options will need to be reviewed by all regional Council's and undergo customer market research before they are finalized.
Smart Fare is an account-based electronic fare payment system that allows municipalities to consider a range of progressive fare options to improve the transit experience for many customers. Possible benefits include no need for paper transfers or upfront payment for monthly/annual transit passes. The four new fare options being considered as a group to replace the current fare structures are described below. They still need to be finalized and approved by Strathcona County Council.
Fare Capping - Maximum payment limits could be placed on daily, weekly and/or monthly periods. This benefits frequent transit users. Different fare caps can be set for seniors, youths, and low income individuals in support of inclusivity and affordability goals. Also, customers would no longer have to prepay a lump sum to receive the transit discounts associated with a monthly pass. This is of particular benefit to riders with limited economic means.
Pay-As-You-Go” (PAYG)” - This options allows customers to pay one trip at a time rather than needing a monthly/annual transit pass. If used together with fare capping, the customer would pay for each trip as it is taken, up to the fare cap for the daily, weekly or monthly period. The PAYG option also includes the ability for customers to use their credit/debit card directly on the bus or LRT station by tapping their bankcard or using mobile wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.
Distance Based Fares - With this approach, the fare paid for each trip could be charged based on the the number of kilometres travelled. The distance would be determined based on the straight line distance between the start and end points of the customer's transit trip, not on the pattern of the route taken. Customers who make shorter trips could pay less for their trip. Customers also would not pay more than the daily, weekly, or monthly cap amounts. This option also would benefit suburban commuters who travel longer distances because they would have certainty about the maximum amount they would pay over a defined time period.
Best Fare - customers could be automatically charged whichever fare provides the best value to them based on their travel patterns/options. This would be of particular benefit to occasional riders and visitors.
Smart Fare is an account-based electronic fare payment system that will make paying for transit easier and more convenient in the Edmonton region. Transit users in Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove and Beaumont will all benefit from the same payment system. The “tap on/off” fare payment system will be introduced region-wide in phases starting in fall 2020.
Smart fare versus smart card
SCT and regional partners are acquiring a Smart Fare, rather than a Smart Card, system. Smart Fare technology is very similar to the way you use a bank card with your bank. It uses an account-based set-up, meaning the account information stays on-line. If a customer were to lose their Smart Fare card, they could replace it without losing their account credit or fare purchase. Loading the Smart Fare account is instant. Once a customer adds value, they can use it right away.
Smart Card technology is slightly older and has the value linked to the specific card – much like a coffee or gift card. If someone was to lose a Smart Card, they would lose the value on that card as well.
Project history and updates
April 2013 – Council formally endorsed a joint application between the City of Edmonton, The City of St. Albert and Strathcona County to the provincial GreenTRIP program to help fund a Smart Fare system.
October 2014 – Executive Team received an update on the Smart Fare project.
2015 - The Government of Alberta approved GreenTRIP funding for this regional initiative, which will improve convenience for customers using transit service in the Capital Region. Strathcona County, Edmonton and St. Albert are also supplying some of the funds for this project.
Spring of 2016 - LTK Engineering Services was retained as the overall program manager for this project. LTK is experienced in Smart Fare implementation and has strong knowledge of the industry.
April 2017 – an In Camera Smart Fare update was provided to Council on the negotiations with the preferred vendor.
July 6, 2017 - The City of Edmonton announced the signing of a $31.4M contract with Vix Technologies. This clears the way to begin to design and build the Smart Fare technology over a three year period. Once the technology is in place, Vix will also be responsible to operate and maintain the modern electronic transit fare payment system for the region for 12 years. The system will serve multimodal transit systems in Edmonton, Strathcona County, and the City of St. Albert. The system design also allows it to be expanded to additional regional transit systems in the future.
Fall 2020 - Smart fare validators have been installed on Strathcona County buses, St. Albert buses, and some Edmonton buses. Installations on ETS buses were paused in spring 2020 due to the impacts of COVID-19, but will resume once resources are available and safety protocols allow.
Once all installations are complete and the system is ready, the project will move into the pilot phase. Pilot participants will test their Smart Fare cards by tapping their cards on the validators when boarding or exiting the buses they normally ride on. The pilot will not be isolated to particular routes and will take place on buses from the different partner transit agencies, including Strathcona County Transit.
- Province of Alberta $28.1M (GreenTRIP funding)
- Strathcona County $2.5M
- City of Edmonton $18.8M
- City of St. Albert $2.2M