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Border closure due to COVID-19 puts brakes on Edmonton transit’s smart fare system

Smart fare card reader being installed in Edmonton and region public transit.
Smart fare card reader being installed in Edmonton and region public transit. Courtesy: City of Edmonton

When the U.S.-Canada border closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also delayed Edmonton transit’s smart fare system rollout.

The smart fare system involves a pre-paid tap card that will allow for more flexible transit pay options, including pay-as-you-go, distanced-based fares and best fare.

Read more: Edmonton Transit installs ‘tap-on tap-off’ fare validators on 5 buses

“Smart Card readers that validate transit fares have been installed on St. Albert buses, Strathcona buses, and some ETS buses. Installation on ETS buses was paused in spring 2020 due to the impacts of COVID-19,” the city’s smart fare website explained.

“Smart Card reader installations will restart once resources are available and safety protocols allow.”

A City of Edmonton spokesperson said the smart fare software is currently being tested in a lab. In-person pilot testing will start once the readers are installed on ETS buses and at LRT stations.

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“Installation on ETS buses was paused in spring 2020 because of border closures, due to COVID-19, that limited the feasibility for the American-based company doing the installation,” Rowan Anderson said.

Read more: Edmonton Transit Service’s cash-only fare system lags behind other cities

The full system was scheduled to be implemented next year.

“The timeline for smart fare rollout depends on the timing of in-person pilot testing, which is contingent on the completion of smart card reader installation.”

The news prompted a tweet from Councillor Aaron Paquette, who suggested there should be a way to pay for fares with debit or credit cards in the interim.

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“Regarding alternative card readers in the meantime, as suggested by Councillor Paquette, our current systems are not capable of integrating credit card or debit payment,” Anderson explained.

“This would require additional funding and staff resources, and would not be a regional solution.”

Edmonton City Council considers making changes to transit fares
Edmonton City Council considers making changes to transit fares

In 2015, the government of Alberta approved GreenTRIP funding for this $51.6-million regional initiative, which will encompass Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove and Beaumont.

Edmonton, St. Albert and Strathcona County are also supplying some funds.