Off-board transportation fare payment systems

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Off-board transportation fare payment systems are means of pre-paying for transit in order to speed up boarding times. Traditionally, a turnstile system has been used prevent riders from entering or exiting the transit system without paying. However, pre-paid tickets, radio frequency identification (RFID) cards, and mobile applications can generate a proof-of-purchase (PoP) for presentation to fare inspectors.



Conceptual Example

Traditional, on-board fare payments can account for a half to a third of vehicle revenue time [5]. Buses are delayed on their route because drivers need to make change for riders and because passengers can only board through a queue at one door. Turnstiles for entrance into stations, ticket-vending machines, or card-readers at stops or in the vehicle for pre-paid RFID cards and mobile tickets are means of paying for a trip before boarding. Off-board fare payments, enable passengers to purchase their fare before they board by allowing them to enter through multiple doors and sparing the driver the distraction of making change. In addition to the time savings, off-board transportation fare systems increase safety by allowing the driver to focus on the navigation of the vehicle alone.

Specific Example

Norfolk, Virginia's 'Tide' light rail (LRT) system allows for the purchase of 'per ride' tickets or 'GoPasses' that also give unlimited access to the region's Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) bus system. They can be purchased at vending machines located at the station, certain retail outlets throughout the area, or ordered online in bulk.

The Tide LRT also enables the purchasing of e-tickets (eTide) though its website. A rider should either print out their ticket or be able to show the eTide ticket on their mobile phone if a PoP is requested by a fare-enforcement officer.

Nationally, most transit agencies that run on an honor system aim to spot-check 10 percent of riders. HRT checks about a quarter of riders with about 1 percent of all riders getting a fine. Violators who are ticketed are charged with a class 4 misdemeanor, which comes with a fine up to $250 plus court costs .

The following list shows the year, the number of people asked for a PoP, and the number of violators fined. What can be seen is that violators decreased by half each successive year.

  • 2012: 121,358 passengers (p) - 412 violators fined (v)
  • 2013: 348,755 (p)- 818 (v)
  • 2014: 364,172 (p) -467 (v)
  • 2015: 355,768 (p) - 223 (v)

[6] [7] [8] [9]



Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. Cost of ticket vending machines
  2. Expense of fare-inspectors
  3. The allure to 'try your luck,' not pay, and possibly incur a steep fine, which might be greater for low-income riders.
Compatibility Assessment

Compatibility Assessment.png

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Are total route times too slow?
  2. Are route distances long?
  3. Are dwell-times too long?
  4. Does the route have high ridership?
  5. Are there specific high-frequency/volume corridors?
  6. Are drivers distracted from the road by the need to make change?


Assuming that a jurisdiction has decided to adopt the policy, the following questions will need to be answered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. How much time would an off-board fare payment system save for a route?
    1. Off-board payment systems can result in a travel time savings of 1.5 seconds per boarding (4). Thus, cumulatively, if there are 4,000 riders on a route per day, an hour and a half of transit time could be saved. They are most effective in high-frequency/volume corridors where reduced dwell time is a priority [10]
  2. How much will the necessary technology (e.g., RFID cards and readers, eTicket purchasing application or website, ticket vending machines) cost?
    1. Ticket vending machines (TVMs) can cost somewhere between $9,000-$13,000 per machine. Adding in maintenance cost, and it's about $20,000 per machine that needs to be allotted in the budget [11].
    2. RFID card readers can cost between $500-$2,000 [12]
    3. A typical mobile application will cost between $100,000 and $300,000 to develop [13]
  3. How much will fare-inspectors cost to employ?
    1. The [City of San Francisco] had 50 fare inspectors as of January 2009, who earn $35 an hour. adding up to about $3.6 million a year [14].
  4. How effective will fare-inspectors be in enforcing 'honor' payment system?
    1. As of 2010, San Francisco's MUNI collects 60 percent of fare evasion tickets and pays $3.6 million (fare-inspector salaries) to collect $900,000. [15]
  5. What will the cost of unpaid riders be on the system?
    1. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is losing as much as $42 million annually from fare evasion on commuter trains, Green Line trolleys, and buses, according to figures released Monday by the T and its commuter rail operator. Even though it is about 2 percent of the transit system’s $2 billion budget, the $42 million estimate is a relatively hefty chunk of the commuter rail’s revenue, estimated at $215 million in the 2016 fiscal year. However, because passengers are allowed to buy tickets on board with few ticket-vending machines, Boston's system might breed fare evasion [16].
    2. An audit of The Twin Cities' (Minneapolis/St. Paul) light rail system showed that fare evasion on its relatively new Green Line was at 4.6-9% at a total loss of $11,000 to $20,000 per week of revenue. Fare evasion on its older Blue Line was lower. Because the Green Line is often used for shorter trips, compared to the Blue Line used more often by commuters to work, it might be more susceptible to fare evasion. The potentially high rate of non-compliance among pre-paid card holders may be the result of a misconception that these cards don’t need to be validated on light rail platforms. It may also be the result of users understanding that they are supposed to tag on platforms, but also misunderstanding why tagging is necessary or important, and knowing that MTPD officers will not fine or cite them for not tagging. [17]
  6. How much should the fine be for not buying a ticket?
    1. San Francisco's MUNI was charging $75 dollar per violation and collecting only 60% of fare evasion tickets. Oddly, juveniles who receive tickets enter the criminal system and ergo are more likely to pay up. Young folk only receive about four percent of the fare evasion tickets but enter the criminal, not civil system because of a wrinkle in state law. 60 percent is about average for transit agencies ( [18].



  • For governance level(s): Local.









  1. Estimation of travel time and the benefits of upgrading the fare payment technology in urban bus services. Tirachini, Alejandro (2013). Transportation Research Part C, vol. 30, 239 - 256. A comparative assessment of speed gains with two policies aimed at reducing bus travel times – providing dedicated busways and upgrading the fare collection system – shows that the number of passengers is crucial in determining the advantage of one or the other in increasing bus operating speed.
  2. What is behind fare evasion in urban bus systems? An econometric approach. Guarda, Pablo et. al (2016). Transportation Research Part A, vol. 84, 55 - 71. An analysis of predictors for fare-evastion and an analysis of counter-measures.
  3. Bus congestion, optimal infrastructure investment and the choice of a fare collection system in dedicated bus corridors. Tirachini, Alejandro; Hensher, David A. (2011). Transportation Research Part B, vol 45, 828 - 844. A microeconomic model for the operation of a bus corridor that minimises total cost (users and operator) and has five decision variables: frequency, capacity of vehicles, station spacing, fare payment system and running speed.
  4. Rider perception of a “light” Bus Rapid Transit system - The New York City Select Bus Service. Wan, Dan et. al. (2016). Transport Policy, vol. 49, 41 - 55. A study of rider perceptions of New York City's bus rapid transit and select bus service accounting for off-board ticket machines among other factors.


  1. National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO: Fares & Boarding [19]. General description of fare-payment systems and accompanying technology
  2. Federal Transit Administration: Fare Collection [20]. General descriptions of fare-payment systems
  3. Broad Street Corridor Rapid Transit Study - BRT Fare Collection Strategies [21]. A projection of costs for Richmond, Virginia's off-board fare payment system
  4. TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 96: Off-Board Fare Payment Using Proof-of-Payment Verification [22]. Examines the application of proof-of-payment (PoP) on transit systems in North America and internationally.
  1. Federal Transit Administration: Fare Collection [23]
  2. Pascale, Jordan (2016, August 13) The Virginian Pilot, "Five years of the Tide light rail in Norfolk." [24]
  3. National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO: Fares & Boarding [25]
  4. Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) - [26]
  5. HRT; eTickets - [27]
  6. Pascale, Jordan (2016, July 12) The Virginian Pilot, "The Tide is no longer the biggest loser." [28]
  7. Viriyincy, Oran (2011, August 26) Seattle Transit Blog, "$400K = 20+ ticket machines.' - [29]
  8. RFID Journal - [30]
  9. Formotus, Mobile Forms and Applications Blog: App Development Costs - [31]
  10. Roberts, Chris (2010, March 25) The San Francisco Appeal, "Throw that ticket away; MUNI can't make fare cheats pay" - [32]
  11. Dungca, Nicole (2016, April 25) The Boston Globe, "Fare evasion may cost MBTA millions per year" [33]
  12. Collins, Bob (2015, April 7) Minnesota Public Radio, "Report: Fare jumping is higher on Green Line." - [34]
  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
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