Mobile fare is here! In this episode, hosts Brittany and Madeline sit down with Project Manager Kelly Hines and Phoenix Light Rail Administrator Markus Coleman to get an inside look at how the app works and how it will improve riders’ lives.
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your daily commute?Madeline:
Or how transportation impacts the community you call home?Brittany:
Maybe you want to explore outside your community and don't know where to start.Madeline:
Well, you're in luck because this is where you hop on.Brittany:
I'm Brittany Hoffman...Madeline:
and I'm Madeline Phipps.Brittany:
We work in communications for Valley Metro, and together we'll discover all the ways that public transit enhances lives across the cities we serve.Madeline:
And we might even make some new friends along the way.Brittany:
Welcome to Storylines.
I have got huge news for you and all of our riders. Are you ready for it?Madeline:
I'm ready. Tell me.Brittany:
On February 1st, we are launching mobile fare. Bells, whistles, horns! I want everything! The whole shebang! This is so amazing!Madeline:
It is amazing and it's so exciting and we know for all of you listening out there, yes, you've been asking for this for a long time. We've been wanting to deliver this for a long time and we're really excited that it is finally happening.Brittany:
Now Maddie, mobile fare is very exciting, but this is just step one of a huge project to upgrade all of our technology across the system when it comes to collecting fares. So we're gonna talk to some of our subject matter experts today about what the next step in the phase is and how you can get mobile fare on February 1st.Kelly:
My name is Kelly Hines. I am a project manager with Jacobs Engineering, supporting the agencies Valley Metro and the city of Phoenix with the new fare collection project for the region.Brittany:
What is your role in the Fare Technology Modernization Project?Kelly:
So, myself and my team support the agencies essentially with project management services. It's rare for an agency to have a dedicated project manager, and even if they have dedicated staff, to have staff with experience in implementing a system like we're implementing. So we come in, this is what we do for a living. We do fare collection, 24/7.
We've done it across the region. I myself helped start the Tap system in LA. So we've done this throughout our career. So we come in and provide that technical guidance and know-how and operational support for the agencies when they launched a system like this. So we were engaged... God, my partner, probably six or seven years ago at the early stages when the agencies realized the system needed to be replaced or upgraded.
What do we wanna do? What do we wanna implement? So we helped walk through those discussions, developed the requirements, supported the procurement process that led to the selection of the vendor. And then design review, installation, support, testing support. And now that we're getting ready to go into the first phase of operations, operations support, so kind of a A to Z support for the agencies to get the new system up and running.Madeline:
And while mobile fare is the first step in this project, it's probably the thing that the public is most aware of and most excited for. So how does mobile fare actually work?Kelly:
As you said, the mobile fare is the first step in the project. It's the first customer facing element that we've been able to release so far. Customers have probably been seeing hardware installed at stations and wondering what that's all about. Those are used to activate tickets using mobile fare.
So on your Valley Metro app on your phone, customers create an account, with just their name and valid email address. Doesn't take a lot of information to create that account. And then once the account is created, customers can purchase one ride tickets and day passes for both local and express services.
And at the time of each use, either on the platform before boarding light rail or upon entering the bus, you scan that barcode that appears with each ticket to activate it, and then you can ride for two hours on that one ride ticket. Or you can continue to scan your barcode on the day pass to ride throughout the day as they do today using their paper media.
And again, it's the first step of the project. So it's a, it's a mini step, you know. There's limited options available for purchase and that is intentional. Trying to get customers ready for what ultimately is coming in phase two. So it's definitely an exciting time, a culmination of a lot of years of work.Brittany:
Yes, definitly exciting, and we're gonna talk more about phase two in a little bit, but what's most exciting about the launch of mobile fare --right now?Kelly:
It's two things. It's a brand new way for customers to pay transit fares. So from the customer perspective, it's a new option. It's a more convenient option for them. They can have them, multiple passes at one time, purchase it as they need it. So it's coming into the 21st century, if you will, with having a, something that's not paper-based to ride transit, a technology solution.
And then from the agency perspective, I think it's the timing, of, you know, right before Super Bowl, which I think makes even extra exciting that we're gonna launch this new mobile ticketing app right before the region is inundated with visitors from all across the country.
So you mentioned that this project has been a few years in the making, and we're obviously celebrating the success, but could you highlight maybe a few of the challenges that we've been able to overcome with this project?Kelly:
A system like this normally takes several years from the planning and the design and the implementation, but then you add a global pandemic on top of that, and two or three years becomes four or five. That was the single biggest hurdle we've had to overcome.
The vendor was selected two to three months before the world shut down for COVID. So as we were ready to gear up for the planning and preparation for this project, the world shut down essentially. It was just logistically very difficult. Things that we would've been doing in person suddenly had to be done remotely, which slowed things down as you can imagine.
But then you add on global supply chain issues that caused delay in delivery of hardware, our validators that are being put on buses and rail... it was a huge, huge obstacle. I think we probably lost about 12 to 15 months overall, which in the grand scheme of things is pretty good actually, considering how delayed things were.
But yeah, you can't even plan for something like that. A project like this is always gonna have issues come up. It touches every facet of an agency, every department literally. Finance, operations, marketing, customer service, IT, end to end. So you expect things to come up along the way, but then you throw a global pandemic on top of it and it takes it to a whole other level.Brittany:
You alluded to it earlier, mobile fare is just the first step and there is much more to come. Can you give us an overview of the whole fare collection system modernization project?Kelly:
As significant as mobile ticketing is, and it's such a great new tool for the riders, it's just the tip of the iceberg. We call this phase one if you will. Phase two ushers in smart cards, which is an alternative to mobile fare, smart card for purchase and use in the system.
That will be accompanied by new ticket vending machines at rail stations, a new customer website, which we're very, very excited about, to support reduced fare applications, buying and reloading your smart card, looking at your transaction history, managing your children's or your spouse's smart card, a new retail network. It's just the tip of the iceberg. It's the the first building block of what will be a new exciting system for the region.Brittany:
Is there anything that you think we missed or you wanna touch on? You think the rider should know?Kelly:
The one thing it would be helpfu l for riders to understand, because mobile ticketing right now with just the one ride and the day passes, you know, we are offering limited options. That is intentional. We're trying to get riders ready for the stored value elements of phase two. So we don't want to train riders or have them come to expect that they buy monthly passes and load it to mobile when we're going to turn that on its head by phase two and you load value.
So we wanna make the mobile app helpful to customers today, but we don't want to perpetuate the concept of monthly passes and fixed period pre-purchase passes. So, mobile ticketing will expand, it'll become an option for our platinum customers, for our university students, for the general public with expanded capabilities.ready for phase two later in: Madeline:
Wow. Well, Brittany, I know you've been really closely working on this project for a long time, so that was cool for me to kind of find out more about how extensive it is, how many people are involved, all of the different technology that's involved, and really just understanding how big of an overhaul this really is for our fare payment system.Brittany:
You are right Maddie. I have been ingrained in mobile fare and all of the fare technology upgrades for a very long time. So finally getting to see mobile fare launch is just so amazing. I've been part of the testing group. We've been out checking all the fare readers to make sure they're ready and so I am so excited for all of our riders and visitors to be able to use mobile fare.Madeline:
In just a minute, we'll be back with another guest who's gonna tell us a little bit more about how this project is really gonna overhaul and shape our transit system in the years to come.Peter:
Suns fans, avoid the traffic and parking hassles and ride to home games in style. Your ticket to the game is your ticket for light rail to and from Footprint Center on game day. Get on board and get excited!Alex:
A new mural is up at our Roosevelt and Central Avenue light rail station. Step on the platform to see the colorful and inspiring artwork by our fall Artsline spotlight artist, JUST. Learn more about JUST at valleymetro.org/artsline.Peter:
Keep up to date on everything that Valley Metro is doing to connect communities and enhance lives. Sign up for email updates on topics you're interested in by going to valleymetro.org/notice.Brittany:
Now that we've heard an overview of the technology upgrades that we're expecting in the upcoming years, we also got a chance to sit down with someone from City of Phoenix and talk about how it's really impacting the region and what our transit system will look like in the future.Markus:
Markus Coleman, light rail Administrator for the city of Phoenix, and March will be four years that I've been in this position.Brittany:
What are you most excited about for mobile fare?Markus:
For mobile fare, I think what I'm most excited about would be technology, our use of technology, us being a young city and having a young transit system. Seeing technologies that are coming into the market and really being able to take advantage of those technologies. I feel that mobile ticketing is just one of those pieces, you know, it's, uh, really allowing us to really show the technical advances that we have, not just for transit, but just throughout the Valley.
I'm really excited about that. I'm really excited about the accessibility of it and the ease of it. And so I really think that this is going to change the way that people utilize transit and also the way that people view transit.Brittany:
Oh, definitely. I know we are joining the ranks of lots of other transit agencies across the country that already utilize this, and so we are excited to be stepping in that same realm. How do you think this will bring more big events to the Valley? So we have a big one coming up on deck. How do you think mobile fare and all the new technology is gonna help?Markus:
Big events. You, speaking of that small thing, the Super Bowl, that may be coming to town. Oh yeah. That small game, you know, no one's really worried about that. I agree with you. You know, as we look at what this means to our system and what this means for transit, and then how that brings economic development to our city, these things are key.
People wanna live in a modern city. They, people wanna live where they have easy access to play, to work, to places of worship, to education. And so it is really nice to see that we're opening those doors and opening those pathways so that we can connect. Not only connecting with our traditional riders, but also connecting with our younger riders, our youth, that are more digitally advanced than some of us old timers are. I say that with me being included in that realm.
And I, feel that when we can show that, it really attracts events to the Valley. When we can do advertising on, with our mobile ticketing, when we can use sale ads, when we can promote events, when we can work with event sponsors to set up, you know, sometimes we have sponsored fare events. When you can do all of those things via a mobile app, it really helps so that people can have a unified experience, right?
So if I'm coming to the Valley of Sun, if I don't live here, I'll be able to get online. Most of the time I can purchase my tickets for an event online. I'll be able to purchase my airfare online. I'll be able to purchase my ground transportation, whether it be rail or bus online, or via the app, and really have my entire route, mapped out and planned and scheduled before I even leave the comforts of my home.
And so when we talk to organizations, those are the type of things that make the Valley attractive to them. They really want to come to a place that people are able to transverse around quite easily and has a multimodal system.Brittany:
Mobile fare is just the first step in this giant puzzle of updating all of our technology across the system. So when we look at the project as a whole, what are we gonna see from our transit system and what can people expect coming to Phoenix in the future?Markus:
So what I think we're gonna see is a shift in mindset, right? We here in the Valley, we get very connected to physical attributes of our system, whether it be cash, currency, or whether it be, you know, a physical ticket. So a shift in mindset is to have that mobile device act as your fare media.
That's gonna take lots of education. That has required us to do a tremendous amount of work on the front end with our infrastructure. We have ticket validators at our light rail platforms. We're installing them on all of our buses throughout the system. Our fare inspection staff are also being equipped with validators, so they'll be able to verify mobile fares as well.
And then, you know, we still have to make sure that we are still able to still hold onto some of those traditional methods of payment due to the fact that we wanna make sure that we are a system that serves our entire community. We don't wanna leave anyone left behind. We are in the business of providing transportation as an option and as a need. So we try to develop a system and look at our system as not just a system that's built for optional riders or choice riders, but a system that is very efficient in allowing people to make a quality of life decision to not purchase a vehicle, to say, hey, you know, that's money that we can use for higher education, living expenses, clothing, entertainment and enjoyment, you know, more leisure in life.
And so, all those things kind of lead into that. And so I'm really excited to see how all of this comes together with the reduction of cash revenue hopefully within our system, which will reduce the amount of labor that it takes to collect those currencies, our being able to have more real-time data of where people are traveling, where revenues are being collected, so that we can make those adjustments and make sure our system running efficiently and that we're serving our community to the best that we can within the parameters of what we have. I'm really excited about that.Brittany:
You mentioned it, Markus, our everyday riders, those are the people who are going to see absolutely the most benefit from the transition that we're making in technologies. How long has this been in the process of planning and what do we expect to see at the end? How do we want our riders to feel when they're out on the system using all of our new technologies?Markus:
We like to think of it as, we really want to be good stewards of our public funds, and we really, you know, when we purchase a system, we really want to use that system through its entire useful life. And we've been able to do that and expand beyond that. And so, we feel that we're at a good place now to where technology has advanced enough to where we're not too far behind, but we won't be necessarily on that cutting edge of unproven technology as well.
Something to be said for having that certain amount of certainty within the system, especially with when you have a city as large as ours, as vast as ours, growing as quickly as ours. And so we wanna make sure that, you know, like we spoke earlier, having that continuity and having that consistency and that dependability of our transit system is what we really hold dear to our heart.
And we really wanna make sure that that message is always at the forefront of everything that we do. I will say that as we're looking to what our users will see and feel at the end of the day with this new system, is we're hoping that it's gonna be just very easy for them. That they're gonna feel that hey, they're empowered. Not only empowered to purchase fare media, but empowered to make more knowledgeable decisions about the way that they not only use transit, but that the way that they manage their finances. With our old system, we weren't able to do fare capping. With our new system, there's so many different things that we'll be able to do that will make the system more equitable.
And then you pair that with the plan and track app that Valley Metro has, it's really exciting to think that someone can sit at their home and plan their entire route, purchase their fare media, know exactly when they need to be at that bus station or at the light rail platform, and be able to have a seamless ride with very minimal inconveniences.
That is the public transit system I wish I was able to have when I was a youth. We still had paper transfer tickets and I used to ride my bike out to the bus stop and just kind of sit there until the bus came.Brittany:
You've mentioned many ways that the mobile app and the overall technology advances that we're making are good for so many social reasons. But you mentioned equity. From a City of Phoenix standpoint, how important is it to you that we get our transit system to an equitable level, and this is one of the ways we can do it?Markus:
I would say that equity is something that is number one in our mission as a city. Not only do we focus on it as the City of Phoenix, but we focus on it as the Phoenix metropolitan area. We work very closely with our neighboring cities as well to make sure that everything that we do is equitable.
Of course, you know that we have certain federal regulations that are in place to make sure that we don't unfairly negatively impact a certain demographic or population, but we take it a step further than that. We do this out of passion and out of love. We know that the community that we serve are our mothers, our fathers, our daughters, our sons, our uncles, our aunts, our family members, our pastors, our doctors, our nurses, our essential workers, all of us, we play and live within the same bowl.
And so we really want to make sure that addressing the quality of life for all in the Valley. And so equity is something that we always try to have that lens in everything that we do. We push ourselves beyond what the minimum requirements are because we know that doing the minimum, it's just that. Doing the minimum. We want to be known as a city that is on the cutting edge. We want to be a leader. And we are definitely willing to put our money and our efforts where our mouth is.
You know, these are not just hollow words. We have a mayor and a council that definitely pushed for that. You have a CEO here at Valley Metro who is definitely pushing the envelope there. I think she's doing some great things already within the organization. We've had opportunity to sit down and talk and she's told me some of her visions of where she wants to see the organization go. And I can't tell you how pleasing it is to know that we are in alignment.
And so, the equity piece of that is something that we support, Valley Metro supports, our entire region supports, and we hope that it shows within our transit system.Brittany:
If there's one thing you want riders to know about mobile fare and all of the technology coming, what is it?Markus:
Not to be afraid. I know that change can be scary. I know that change can seem unfair at some times. But don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to reach out to your customer service. Don't be afraid to reach out to your customer experience coordinators as you see 'em on the light rail. Don't be afraid to reach out to your bus drivers.
All of our staff is being educated on the system. They will know how the system works, and our job is to be ambassadors for our system. We'll walk you through the processes, whether it is purchasing the fare, utilizing the fare, making sure that you're where you need to be, when you need to be there.
And so don't be afraid, I would say that'd be the number one thing is don't be afraid. And number two would be to search out the information. Don't be afraid to ask for the information because we have several individuals that are literally at your fingertips that are willing to help and anxious to help. They're not just there to do a job, but they're ready and excited and they want you to be able to capitalize on all these new advancements that we have.Madeline:
Wow, that was really great and again, so exciting to just think about where we're headed in the future and how our transit system is really gonna transform alongside this fast-growing region that we're in.Brittany:
And Markus said it, we're doing it at the time because we're using tried and true technology, we're making sure that all of these components are heat resistant, weather resistant. We have elements here in the Valley that others don't have to think about. And so giving ourselves the time to find that technology so that we can make our transit system amazing for years to come? It's truly something to be excited about for the Valley, for the future.Madeline:
Well, if you've been listening to all this and thought, wait, how can I get mobile fare? Download the Valley Metro App! Hopefully you have it by now, but if you don't, it's available in the Apple App and Google Play Stores. You can track your bus and train in real time. You can plan your trip, and now you can pay for your fare in the app.Brittany:
Thank you to the 180,000 people who have already downloaded, and if it's not you, make sure you do it right now!Madeline:
Well, that's all for this episode of Storylines. Thanks so much for listening. If you haven't, go ahead and subscribe to our podcast so you never miss an episode and rate and review us in the podcast app.Brittany:
We have tons of exciting episodes coming up on Storylines for this year, but we wanna make sure we're covering what you wanna hear. If you have ideas, email us at email@example.com. For Valley Metro. I'm Brittany.Madeline:
Thanks for riding with us.Madeline:
We'll meet you at the next stop.Brittany:
Storylines is produced by Alex Tsotsos and Dane Ryals. Peter Corkery is the executive producer. I'm Brittany Hoffman with Madeline Phipps. Thanks for listening.