Special to The Truth
The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) has announced that a policy designed to keep passengers and employees safe while helping them economically recover from the pandemic will continue through most of 2022.
TARTA’s Board of Trustees has approved the extension of its fare-free policy through July 31, 2022, and also plotted a course for the agency’s future by announcing its intention to go to a cashless fare system by 2024.
TARTA was one of the first public transit agencies in the nation to suspend fares in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has not charged customers for rides since March of 2020. Since the pandemic began, TARTA has prioritized strategies for the safety of customers and employees such as suspending fare collection and providing free facial coverings.
“For many of our customers, TARTA remains the only option for them to reach work and medical appointments,” said TARTA CEO Laura Koprowski. “We have seen how the fare-free policy has benefited the public in general as well, by allowing more people to compete for the jobs available in the area and helping businesses, which are also struggling to hire and maintain a workforce.
“While suspending fares is not a practice we can continue indefinitely, we are pleased to be able to offer a safe transportation option and help more people take advantage of the opportunities that exist in northwest Ohio.”
TARTA is still determining how fares will be structured when collection does resume on August 1, 2022. A cashless card system would be implemented 12-to-24 months later, with plans in motion to help customers make the transition. Customers who wished to pay for rides without cash on TARTA and TARPS vehicles before the pandemic could already do so using the EZfare app.
TARTA plans to continue accepting payments through EZfare, and replace fare collection boxes on fixed-route vehicles by August of next year with those capable accepting both cash and virtual payments.
“Every change we have planned for our fare system is geared toward making TARTA faster and more efficient,” Koprowski said. “Eliminating cash fares will make every trip easier for customers and TARTA personnel alike, and we look forward to preparing all of our riders to make this change.
“Years of underfunding have left us behind the rest of the industry in terms of technological advancements, to the detriment of our customers. Going to a cashless fare system is something that public transit passengers around the state and the nation have already seen the benefits of. We are happy to put plans in motion to give our riders those benefits, as well.”
The plan approved by TARTA’s board calls for the transit system to develop fare cards, which could be refilled with cash before boarding at TARTA facilities and other area stores and locations. A transition to a cashless fare system is the next step in a continued organizational transformation for TARTA, which will expand service to cover all of Lucas County and implement its first system-wide redesign in decades before the end of 2022.
TARTA provides a vital link in the Toledo metro area to jobs, education, health care and other destinations. It enables everyone in our community to have access to transportation regardless of their age, race, physical ability or economic background. TARTA is underway with exploring and introducing new initiatives and service options that will enhance convenience and customer experience while moving our region into the future of public transit. –