- Urban transit transformers recognize three key challenge areas in extending new transportation options to disadvantaged residents; smartphone access, electronic payment models, and cost.
- Columbus, Ohio, a mid-sized city with a population of approximately 879,170 is addressing each of these challenges.
- The city is deploying interactive transportation kiosks for residents who don't have smart phones.
- The city is partnering with PayNearMe to provide physical, cash payment opportunities.
Cities across the US are transforming their transit landscapes. Gone are the days of automobile preference and public transit limitation. For-profit mobility providers are deploying car-share, ride-hailing, and micro-transit eScooter and eBike rentals, all accessible via smartphone apps and paid for electronically.
A critical question remains: how can urban transit transformation bring all residents into a new, more flexible world.
“Where an individual goes, how they get there and the resources they have access to has the potential to influence nearly every other element of his or her life.” ~ The Future of Equity in Cities, 2017 National League of Cities
Urban transit transformers recognize three key challenge areas in extending new transportation options to disadvantaged residents; smartphone access, electronic payment models, and cost.
Pew Research Center, 2019 reports that 96% of Americans own a cell phone of some kind. However, almost 25% of Americans in lower educational brackets own non-smart cell phones. That means that a quarter of mostly poorer Americans have no access to transit apps or their digital payment models.
Electronic payment models
Electronic payments require both a smartphone and access to a debit or credit card. Typically, such cards require a bank account to secure.
According to David A. King and Juan Francisco Saldarriaga of Arizona State University and Columbia University respectively, “In many U.S. cities large portions of low-income households do not have access to mainstream bank accounts or credit cards. These un- or underbanked households are effectively excluded from new services, fare discounts for transit passes, and other transportation services that require access to credit cards.”
City transit authorities provide income, age, or status-based discounts to public transportation services. Those discounts help cities fulfill their mandate to expand public transit access to the maximum number of residents. For-profit companies like Uber and Lyft have little incentive to offer lower-income or special category users discounts.
In many cities, transfers from one public transit route to another are free to the rider. But if a rider’s trip includes public transit plus a for-profit micro-transit option, the rider must pay two different transit providers for a single trip.
The Columbus Solution
Columbus, Ohio, a mid-sized city with a population of approximately 879,170 is addressing each of these challenges.
Columbus is in the middle of a transit transformation. In 2016, Columbus won the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The city is now using some of the funding they received along with the energy and focus the award has nurtured to streamline and expand transportation access across the city’s diverse demographics. Key to Columbus’s transformation success is extending services residents who possess neither smartphones nor credit cards.
Extending Full-Service Access to Residents without smartphones
Columbus is deploying interactive transportation kiosks throughout Linden, one of several economically challenged communities. The kiosks will enable riders to access the same trip planning, transportation status, and payment tools available to smartphone users. The full system will be available in 2020.
Columbus chose to acquire the customizable kiosks from IKE Smart City, a Columbus Ohio company. If the implementation proves effective, the city will expand deployment to other neighborhoods.
Enabling Payment through Partnership
While some cities have implemented cash and credit card payment machines, Columbus is partnering with PayNearMe, a payment platform that allows users to add cash to their account at partnering brick and mortar businesses.
According to Columbus Smart City, “Users will fund a single account so they are able to “click to pay” for the entire trip in one easy payment, whether it includes one type of travel (e.g. bus) or several (e.g. ride-share, bus, bike-share). Those who use cash-only will be able to plan and purchase trips by visiting a PayNearMe location.”
PayNearMe cash payment locations are already available throughout Columbus.
Tackling the Cost Challenge
COTA, the Central Ohio Transit Authority currently offers discounts based on age, economic status, and special needs.
Spin, an eBike and eScooter provider offers reduced rates through its Access program. Lime, another micro-transit provider is also offering reduced fares in certain areas. Uber has experimented with demographic discounts, but doesn’t offer any regularly.
Providing multiple service discounts for riders is a challenge Columbus will need to address as it continues to transform its local transportation landscape.