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Mobile Ticketing Is A Go: Port Authority Launches Ready2Ride

Margaret Sun
90.5 WESA

Bus riders can now buy fares from their mobile phones through Port Authority’s Ready2Ride app, or through the real-time app Transit. Both Ready2Ride and Transit are free and available for download from the Apple or Google Play stores, as well as Port Authority’s website.

The long-awaited launch of mobile ticketing was roundly celebrated on Monday, but the initiative still has some holes.

Due to technological setbacks the app won’t be ready for light rail until next year, said Adam Brandolph, spokesperson for the Port Authority. But roughly 80 percent of riders take the bus.

“So we wanted to make sure that we rolled this out to as many people as possible as early as possible,” he said.

Port Authority is also trying to expand options for people who pay with cash or lack a smartphone, but Brandolph said the agency is still in negotiations with a company that represents “many national retail locations.” He would not comment further because contracts are not yet finalized.

In addition, only full fares are currently available through the apps. Riders with half-fare cards must surrender them Downtown before half-fare purchases can be enabled.

Disability advocate Alisa Grishman was part of Port Authority's beta testing, so she knew the policy was coming, but she said it's frustrating.

“Everyone who has the half-fare pass has some sort of disability, and it’s usually a physical disability,” she said. “That can make getting Downtown for a trip like this very difficult.” She added that any system has hiccups, and hopes the Port Authority will offer an alternative.

Kids ages 6 to 11 can also use half-fare cards. But Brandolph said the cards have to be handed in so they can’t be used fraudulently.

“That’s not exactly making more options for people,” said Dan Yablonsky, communications director for the advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transit.

Yablonsky applauded the app’s launch, but said more work has to be done.

“We can’t just celebrate tech, celebrate the app, celebrate the future, without bringing everyone ahead,” he said.

The firm contracted to create Ready2Ride, Masabi, built the app to work with cell phones’ accessibility functions, a spokesperson for the company said. The app also offers audio responses to help users validate their fares. While Ready2Ride is currently offered only in English, the Masabi spokesperson said the company is in talks with Port Authority “regarding any additional languages that may be required.”

Transit supports multiple languages, as well as features to assist users navigate the app, which first came to Pittsburgh in 2013. It now has some 40,000 monthly users, said Katie Monroe, part of the Transit partnerships team. She spoke with WESA in July as Pittsburgh prepared to launch its mobility hubs.

Of those users, Monroe said a survey this spring of more than 500 people found that nearly 80 percent of the Transit users in Pittsburgh do not have access to a car, and more than a third of users have incomes of less than $20,000.

Both Yablonsky and Grishman urged Port Authority to make fares more affordable to people with low incomes.

“Accessibility is not affordability,” said Yablonsky. “And affordability is not something you can fix with an app.”

Connect Cards and cash will still be accepted on board Port Authority buses.

Margaret J. Krauss is WESA’s senior reporter. She covers development and transportation, and has produced award-winning podcasts on housing, work, and Pittsburgh’s lesser-known history. Before joining the newsroom full time, she covered the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities as a statewide reporter, and spent another life as an assistant editor for National Geographic Kids Magazine in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at mkrauss@wesa.fm.