New DART Payment Card Could Go Long Way to Fixing Big Frustration

Big announcement from DART: In addition to the ways in which riders can now pay their fares (cash on the bus, DART's mobile GoPass app and cash or card at light rail station ticket vending machines) DART riders will have a new option early in 2017 — a reloadable card available at 7-Eleven and other retailers that will work with near-field communication readers installed on DART's trains and buses.

So, this is a pretty cool thing for Dallas' significant population that doesn't have access to a credit or debit card. They'll be able to load the card with cash, and then not have to worry about having the required correct change to get on the bus or dealing with the ticket vending machines that give change for big bills in Sacagaweas. The biggest boost, and this applies to both the banked and unbanked, is that spending on the cards will be capped at $80 per month — the going rate for a DART monthly pass. Any rides taken by a rider who has already spent that much in a month will be free, David Leininger, DART’s chief financial officer, told The Dallas Morning News.

"Today, more than 80 percent of the fare value collected on the bus or through our ticket vending machines is paid in cash" Leininger said in statement. "PayNearMe put together an innovative response to our request for customer cash management that incorporated an excellent mobile solution, a thoughtful smart card solution and a strong footprint of retail partners that ensures a broad cross section of grocery, convenience and bodega retailers to serve our customers." 

The cards have the potential to fix another issue as well: DART's intermittent fare enforcement on its rail system. DART's rail stations do not have controlled entry and fare enforcement officers rarely pop up on trains. Make enough trips on trains where no one checks your ticket, and you begin to feel like a sucker for paying. Depending on how DART utilizes NFC on its trains — DART spokesman Mark Ball said Monday afternoon that the mechanics of how the cards would work on trains have not yet been worked out — it could create a sort of electronic barrier to entry.

If the agency doesn't create that barrier, the potential complications of the cards are easy to see. If funds only come off the cards when they are scanned by fare enforcement, any ride without a fare check would be free for NFC card users. 

One of the key features of the new system could allow for enforcement to be tightened up.

At some point after the new cards and payment system debuts single-use tickets could be phased out from the DART system entirely, Tammy Lam, a spokeswoman for PayNearMe said. If that happens, the new payment cards or DART's smart phone app would make it much easier for DART to require the tap of an app or card to board trains and buses.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young