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University students could soon use smartphone app for Calgary Transit passes

A Calgary Transit bus pictured on Feb. 20, 2020. Global News

Calgary Transit’s My Fare app is ready to open its doors to more users.

City officials told the transportation and transit committee Wednesday they are ready to pilot a UPass option for University of Calgary students for this spring/summer term. Students at other post-secondary institutions could start using the My Fare app as soon as this fall.

The subsequent phase of the app’s development would include annual passes for seniors and monthly low-income transit passes, which city administration said could launch in 2022.

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Since launching in July 2020, the My Fare app has been downloaded more than 81,000 times and nearly 26,000 accounts have been activated. Some $6.3 million worth of individual tickets and monthly passes for youth and adults have been sold in that time, making up 15 per cent of fares in that 10-month period.

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A vast majority of tickets and passes have been purchased on mobile devices, and through the month of March, 60 per cent of tickets were bought through the online service.

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Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison said the uptake of the app is “really encouraging.”

“I think as a city where we can utilize mobile devices to do more things, all the better,” Davison said Wednesday.

“When it comes to the My Fare app, offering things like the availability to purchase tickets, looking at how we iterate — so, once a purchase is made, you can hold that in your wallet — things like that are great.”

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It’s a move that students’ unions have been lobbying for since the launch of My Fare, saying it makes sense for students.

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“I know so much else exists on your phone — you have your wallet and everything else,” Marley Gillies, VP external of the University of Calgary Students’ Union, said. “It only made sense that this was the next step.”

Gillies said waiting in line for the UPass sticker to go on their student ID was a waste of their time, given advancements in technology.

“Students would have to wait in line for hours to get that sticker and then sometimes (the counter) wouldn’t even have it. But you always have your phone.”

The app will also make it easier for students who don’t study at the main campus to get their UPass, Gillies said. And with the ubiquity of smartphones, she said it will make boarding a bus easier for students too.

“Having accessible transit is key to students living in Calgary and studying in Calgary and working in Calgary. So it was really important that it was accessible for students.”

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The city is already looking at expanding the scope of the app. One idea is to make transit trips easier through in-app trip planning, allowing the city to react to changing ridership patterns more rapidly. Another idea is to allow the user to connect with other mobility options like e-scooters.

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Davison said that could help the city better serve app users.

“I think transit users and transportation needs could be lumped into one app, whether that includes the offering of e-scooters, taxis, other city services related to transportation,” Davison said. “I think that’s really what we want to look at and add in.”

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During the meeting, Davison asked Calgary Transit whether the city could run in-app ads to let users know about other city services. Transit officials said that is an option that could be explored in the future with software developer Masabi.

Concerns over the seven-day expiry date on tickets were raised by Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek, citing concerns over students suddenly having to self-isolate due to a suspected COVID-19 exposure.

“We did put a seven-day expiry on the tickets and that was based on the advice from our legal department,” Calgary Transit’s Russell Davies told the committee. “The short version of the story is that if people buy tickets, they’re supposed to use the tickets. They don’t need to buy them anymore in advance than that, really.”

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Davison told reporters the app makes purchasing a la carte tickets a much more fluid process.

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“It’s really trying to encourage more usership by removing some of those roadblocks that maybe we have right now in terms of having to go out in public and buy a ticket,” Davison, who also chairs the committee, said.

During a monthly transportation report, city officials told the committee transit levels dipped slightly at the end of March, which city officials attribute to the recent spring break at schools, saying ridership levels remain at 27 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Calgary Transit service levels remain at 79 per cent of 2019 amounts.

The committee also heard that the city is nearly ready to issue permits to a pair of e-scooter companies to be able to operate 750 scooters each. City officials expect to issue permits in early May, with scooters rolling out shortly after that.

Scooters will need to have company names and unit numbers displayed in a highly-visible manner. The company name and contact information will also need to be printed in Braille on each scooter, to allow blind and visually-impaired Calgarians to contact the companies if they come across a scooter.

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