The grant will fund the purchase and installation of validators to use with the EZfare mobile ticketing platform and more.
Kirt Conrad, President and CEO of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) announced that the agency has been awarded a $1,997,503 Integrated Mobility Innovation grant by the U.S Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The multi-year grant, which will be shared with ten other transit providers, will fund the purchase and installation of validators for use with the EZfare mobile ticketing platform and ticketing integration with Transit app, data collection and survey research, and the development of an innovative alternative payment application that will enable users to pay for transit and other transportation services using their phone or a "smartcard" rather than cash.
In addition to SARTA the following NEORide transit providers will receive grant funding:
- Butler County Regional Transit Authority (BCRTA)
- Western Reserve Transit Authority (WRTA)
- Sandusky Public Transit
- Medina County Public Transit (MCPT)
- Metro RTA (Akron)
- Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA)
- Lancaster-Fairfield Public Transit
- Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK)
- South East Area Transit (SEAT)
Mr. Conrad said the IMI project was conceived and will be carried out by an impressive consortium that includes NEORide, a council of governments comprised of 15 transit agencies, Calstart, a non-profit that works with businesses and government to create groundbreaking transportation solutions, Masabi, a fare payments-as-a-service provider and world leader in mobile ticketing, and Cleveland State University.
The FTA’s IMI program funds projects that demonstrate innovative and effective practices, partnerships and technologies to enhance public transportation effectiveness, increase efficiency, expand quality, promote safety and improve the traveler experience. Competition for funding is incredibly fierce: only 20 of the 104 proposals submitted won approval. “Our application checked all the boxes,” Mr. Conrad said. “We assembled an outstanding team and our vision for the future of public transit exceeds the program’s benchmarks. We’re pleased and proud that we received the second largest grant awarded by the FTA this year.”
Mr. Conrad said letters of commitment to the project submitted by numerous agencies and organizations as well as enthusiastic letters of support from local, state, and federal officeholders and officials including 16th District Congressman Anthony Gonzalez undoubtedly influenced the FTA’s decision-making process. “We’re grateful that so many community and civic leaders grasp the importance of public transit in general and this project in particular,” he said. “They played an indispensable role in our success.”
Congressman Gonzalez congratulated NEORide and the member transit agencies for securing the Integrated Mobility Innovation Grant and said he looks forward to working with the team as the project moves from concept to reality. “Public transit is critical for strengthening our region’s economy and enhancing the quality of life for thousands of people in our community,” he said. “I am proud that my office could help secure this critical funding and look forward to continuing to work alongside state and local partners to support innovative projects that will support our local infrastructure and economy far into the future.”
Laketran Executive Director and NEORide Chair Ben Capelle said the IMI project represents an important step forward in NEORide's drive to develop regional transportation networks that began with the launch of the EZfare mobile ticketing app. “We believe anyone who needs or wants to go anywhere in the communities we serve should be able to use public transit to get there,” he said. “Grants like this are extremely valuable because they enable small and large agencies to acquire the state-of-the-art technology that makes it easy, affordable, and convenient for people to travel from county to county for any reason at any time.”
Shannon Rine, Transit Director of Medina County Public Transit and Dawn Distler, CEO of METRO RTA agreed. “The expansion of EZfare made possible by the IMI grant will be a real plus for smaller agencies like ours because it will enable us to integrate and coordinate service with METRO RTA and other large systems,” Mr. Rine said. “MCPT riders will now have access to job sites, medical facilities, schools, and hundreds of other destinations outside Medina County and people from other areas will be able to use public transit to visit us. We’re really excited about the opportunities for expanded service the grant creates.”
METRO RTA’s Distler said her system is pleased to be a partner in this innovative program. “This type of a coordination will significantly improve the service we offer today and is key to the future growth of public transit here in Ohio and across the United States. I would like to thank the FTA for recognizing the importance of and investing in groundbreaking projects like this. The agency’s ongoing support is fueling our ability to meet the growing demand for public transit,” she said.
During the first phase of the project Masabi’s Justride multi-format, contactless, ticket validation devices will be installed in vehicles operated by the participating transit systems. The devices enable passengers to simply tap fare media, including tickets for fares purchased via the EZfare app, on the validator’s screen as they board.
Katherine Conrad, Director of Client Services for NEORide, who has been supervising the IMI project from its inception said the contactless feature of the validators wasn’t a major consideration when the planning process began. “But it’s become a major selling point and advantage in the post-COVID-19 world because passengers and operators will not have to physically exchange currency, tickets or passes. EZfare is now both the easiest and the safest way to pay for public transit.”
“The launch of the EZfare app was just the beginning of the journey. This grant will help accelerate the deployment of a fully contactless regional fare payment system, helping to make it easier, more convenient, and safer to travel by public transit across Ohio and Kentucky,” said Brian Zanghi, CEO of Masabi. “Development of a contactless regional fare payments system like EZfare can now be achieved in a step-by-step and low risk way and we would like to thank all of the forward-thinking agencies who make up the NEORide consortium for making this possible.”
Mr. Conrad noted that survey research conducted by Cleveland State University and usage data collected via the EZfare app and participating agencies are also important components of the IMI project. “The data we collect will enable us to determine how well the app and validators are working, ridership levels, travel times, and destinations,” he said. “The survey research will provide valuable insight on transit riders—who they are, why they ride, what they like, what they don’t, and what they need. Taken together the information will enable us to plot a clear course for the future of public transit.”
The data will also play a key role in the development of a cash-alternative payment system that will enable people who do not have bank accounts or credit cards to pay for transit service and other purchases using a “smartcard.” “We know that many of our riders don’t have access to banking services that many people take for granted,” Dean Harris, Executive Director of the Western Reserve Transit Authority (WRTA) said. “We believe Masabi’s technology can serve as the foundation of a payment solution that will enable the riders we transport to stores, restaurants, theatres, and thousands of other places to easily purchase the goods and services they need. It’s just another way for transit to break down barriers and enhance the quality of life for our customers.”
If you would like to learn more about this project, or about enabling a regional fare payments solution in a more cost-effective and risk free way, please get in contact with us.