Transportation

With the wave of this card, you can soon board any area bus

“Connect Card” readers are popping up at area transit stations and on buses. Shown here is a reader in green casing at the 23rd Street light-rail station in Sacramento.
“Connect Card” readers are popping up at area transit stations and on buses. Shown here is a reader in green casing at the 23rd Street light-rail station in Sacramento. tbizjak@sacbee.com

Sacramento transit riders soon will be able to ride on nine bus systems around the region using a single plastic card for payment.

The Connect Card, being soft-tested by volunteer riders on Sacramento Regional Transit, will make transit travel seamless in the five-county area by allowing bus and light-rail users to transfer from one city or county’s bus system to the next without having to deal with each agency’s ticketing protocols.

Officials hope to expand the system early next year to include El Dorado Transit, Elk Grove’s e-tran system, Folsom Stage Line, Placer County Transit, Roseville Transit, South County Transit Link, Yolobus and Yuba-Sutter Transit.

Riders can load value onto the card and use it to pay for a ride by tapping the card against a fare machine on buses or at a light-rail station. The machine deducts the fare from the card account, or notes whether the cardholder has some form of transit pass.

Eventually, the card system will replace cash, credit cards and paper passes for many riders, advocates said, although it is uncertain if those other payment methods will be phased out entirely. Sacramento Regional Transit already has a smartphone ticketing app that riders can continue to use indefinitely instead of cash or the Connect Card.

The $15 million system will reduce administrative costs for transit agencies and increase regional transit ridership by making cross-agency transfers easier for riders, said Kirk Trost, an official with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the regional transportation planning agency that is overseeing the card’s implementation.

“This is about regional integration, making it easier for people to get on one transit system and seamlessly link to another,” Trost said. “With one card, they can get on light rail, connect with a bus on another system. When transit is easier to use, more people will ride.”

Trost said SACOG and RT are looking for more people to test the card. Interested riders can sign up at www.connecttransitcard.com.

Connect Card readers already have been installed on buses and at light-rail systems throughout the region, transit officials said.

The region’s various transit districts would retain their autonomy and decision-making over their routes, Trost said. Each transit agency can maintain control over fare prices and pass types on its buses.

The Connect Card will simplify the process for getting or renewing a monthly transit pass, Yolobus executive Terry Bassett said.

“A huge advantage is that a person will be able to add extra months and extra value to their pass online, or by making a phone call, and utilizing the same card, thus eliminating the need to go out and get a new card every month,” he said.

The card also could allow agencies to implement distance-based fares, if they choose. Sacramento Regional Transit officials have talked about such fares, charging more for longer rail rides, for instance, and less for short-distance rides.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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