Guess which transit agency has the first contactless bank card fare payment system in California

In which I discuss public transportation because I used it to get around during a big bike event.

No transit agency in the technology-heavy San Francisco Bay Area supports tap-and-pay contactless fare payment using bank cards; you have to use the proprietary stored value Clipper Card or their Clipper App. The Los Angeles area has their TAP card — again, a proprietary stored valued card. But which California transit agency allows you to use the chipped bank card you already have in your wallet, or the open payment app on your phone?

The first California transit agency to offer contactless bank card fare payment as you board the bus is Monterey Salinas Transit (MST), a small, scrappy lifeline service with a $42 million operating budget covering 300 square miles of mostly rural Monterey County.

I was in Monterey County for the Sea Otter Classic this past few days so I made use of the local transit. MST has a complicated, distance-based fare system that historically involved the driver having to remember who paid for what distance. While looking for their current fare information so I could arrange to have exact change, I was thrilled to learn they now have contactless payment. I tapped my chipped bank card when I boarded, and tapped again when I disembarked for the proper fare payment that accounted for my distance traveled. It’s so easy peasy.

This was done as a pilot through the California Intergrated Transit Project, which seeks to simplify the transit riding experience for both riders and providers. According to their project launch press release, MST is the first in California to offer tap-and-pay fare payment using smart credit and debit cards.

Since then, Sacramento Regional Transit began offering the same service for light rail rides, also in partnership with CalITP. Hurray when transit agencies make payment easier for visitors, occasional users, and first time users.

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