Automated Fare Media in California

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California transit agencies vary greatly in the technology and design of their fare payment systems. Currently, seven fare payment systems based on smart card ticketing operate in the state. Four of these systems are regional, covering numerous agencies across a county or regional planning area, and three are restricted to a single transit agency. All seven systems are closed payment systems that can only process agency-issued fare media. However, the implementation of card readers compatible with international standards by Porterville Transit, Monterey-Salinas Transit and the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (the most recently-implemented systems), and the intention of agencies in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego areas to upgrade to account-based or (account- and standards-based) open architecture ticketing systems creates the potential for interoperability between smart card systems in the near future.

Overview: California Smart Card Systems List

Fare Program

Implementing Agency

Participating Agencies

Technology and Design

Upgrade/Future Initiative
TAP (Transit Access Pass) Los Angeles County Metro All 26 transit agencies in LA County[1] Cubic technologies proprietary NextFare Central Back office, Mifare contactless card[2][3] Recently approved an upgrade to cloud-based back office[4]

Metropolitan Transportation Commission

21 agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area[5] MIFARE Desfire Card, Cubic NextFare back office[6] Upgrade to Next generation of clipper. RFP process begins this year[7]
Compass Card

San Diego MTS

San Diego MTS bus and light rail, NTCD busses, Coaster and Sprinter[8] Mifare Classic Card[9], Cubic farebox[10]. Currently in processing of upgrading to new fare system (as old one near end of life. Considering Account-based processor, data warehouse back office, smart phone validators[11]
Connect Card

Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG)

Sacramento Regional Transit (light rail and bus), El Dorado Transit, Etran, Folsom Stage Line, Placer County Transit, Roseville Transit, SCT/Link, Yolobus, Yuba-Sutter Transit[12].

INIT ProxMobil passenger terminal, with MOBILevario back office processing system and Mifare Desfire card. Farebox and card ISO 14443 compliant but data encrypted, stored on card[13].
Go Card Monterey-Salinas Transit Monterey-Salinas Transit Genfare Odyssey Farebox (ISO 14443 compliant but closed[14]).

Cruz Card

Santa Cruz Metro Transit District Santa Cruz Metro Transit District Genfare Odyssey farebox (unspecified, ISO 14443 compliant technology but closed[15]).

Porterville Transit

Porterville Transit

Genfare Fast Fare Farebox (ISO 14443 compliant[16]) Installing Genfare Link system: Stores data in cloud (rather than farebox) and updates from back-office-server[17]

Metropolitan Smart Card Systems

Four of California’s major metropolitan areas have regional fare payment systems based on contactless smart cards. These are the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Clipper Card (covering 21 transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area), the Los Angeles County Metro’s Transit Access Pass or TAP (covering all 26 transit agencies in Los Angeles County), the Metropolitan Transit System’s Compass Card (covering the two main transit agencies in San Diego County) and the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s Connect Card (covering nine agencies in the Sacramento area). All four systems coexist with cash fares and transfer passes.

The first three of the four metropolitan systems use software from Cubic Corporation. These include specially-designed computerized back office systems (MASS for Clipper Card[6] and NextFare Central for Los Angeles and San Diego[9]) for financial settlement and clearinghouse functions (e.g. validation) and MIFARE-based contactless cards[9] as the fare medium or mechanism of payment: Clipper Card uses Mifare Desfire while Compass Card and TAP use MIFARE Classic. The MIFARE technology can be characterized as “card-based” (in that information is mainly stored on the card, with shadow data available from a back office[18]) and “proprietary” in that it does not completely cohere to the international standards on contactless smart cards ( Mifare classic cards used on TAP and compass seem to comply with certain components of ISO 14443 but are not fully compatible with ISO 14443-standard card readers[19]). This means that expansion of these smart card systems can only occur through the installation of specialized hardware. It should be noted, however, that both Clipper Card[20] and Compass Card[21] are currently in the process of reviewing and soliciting bids for fare system upgrades (respectively). The former system wishes to incorporate more agencies and create an enhanced customer experience, while the latter seeks to replace aging hardware. Both systems are interested in transitioning to an account-based, open architecture model, with media that can be used for non-transit applications[21] or validators that can accept a variety of fare media. Moreover, in May 2017, the Los Angeles County Metro approved a contract modification with Cubic technologies, extending the company’s contract (for the TAP card system) through the year 2024 on the conditions that Cubic upgrade the system to the cloud-based “Nextlink” model[22], which stores customer information in a computerized account (rather than in a specific card). The account-based system will allow customers to pay for non-transit modes (including freeway toll lanes and bikeshare) with their transit account/fare media[23].

The Sacramento region’s Connect Card system, on the other hand, uses hardware and software developed by INIT (Innovations in Transportation) Incorporated. These include ProxMobil passenger terminals (on light rail trains and busses), EVENDpc retail sales terminals, and a MOBILEvario sophisticated back-office fare management system[24]. The ProxMobil terminal is compatible with ISO 14443 A/B cards used on smart cards nationwide[25]. However, the fareboxes used to validate Connect Cards contain an additional level of encryption that is only compatible with the Agency-issued Connect Card (a Mifare Desfire product)--which receives the additional encryption when activated[13], making the system closed-loop[26]. The system is also card-based, with changes in data at the back office requiring a manual update of fareboxes[13].

Local/Municipal Smart Card Systems

Outside of the main metropolises, the city of Porterville’s Porterville transit currently uses Genfare’s Fast Fare electronic farebox, that processes fare payments by both cash and the contactless “GoCard” smart card, an agency-issued fare media that can be registered and loaded online[16]. The farebox appears to be standards-based, with the capacity to read all ISO 14443-standard cards, NFC-enabled mobile phones, mobile barcodes and magnetic cards[16]. Currently, a “GoCard Mobile Ticketing” app allows customers to buy and store passes on a mobile platform and activate them prior to boarding (resembling a “flash pass” type of technology)[27]. However, the city is in the process of upgrading to the Genfare Link farebox, a cloud-based fare card reader that would accept smart cards and contactless bank cards. The farebox would be account-based (with data stored in the cloud) and open[28], and the agency intends to allow for interoperability with fare systems employed by other agencies in the county (e.g. Tulare, Visalia)[29]. This makes Porterville Transit the most advanced system in California in terms of fare payment architecture.

Monterey-Salinas Transit also uses a Genfare Farebox. The agency issues its own contactless stored-value smart card, called the “Go Card,” which can be reloaded at several outlets in the area: the agency gives a 10% discount to passengers using the card each time they reload[30]. The agency’s farebox was jointly procured with the Santa Cruz Metro Transit District and Santa Clara VTA and at least at the time of purchase, the system’s Smart Cards were interoperable with the former agency’s fareboxes[31]. However, both Monterey-Salinas Transit and Santa Cruz Metro Transit District currently operate closed fare payment systems: Monterey-Salinas Transit’s fareboxes only accept the agency’s own GoCards and (magnetic stripe) paper passes, in addition to cash[14], and the Metro Transit District’s fareboxes only accept contactless “Cruz Cards”, disposable Magnetic Stripe Metro Passes, cash[32] and Clipper Cards issued through the VTA’s Express EcoPass program[33].

Magnetic Stripe Cards and Other

In addition, a number of smaller transit agencies throughout the state have electronic fareboxes that accept with magnetic stripe fare cards. These are the most basic non-cash fare and media, and relatively easy to procure, but have limited data storage and insufficient security. For instance, Fresno Area Express and Merced County Transit sell magnetic stripe cards capable of storing either passes or single rides[34] (in the case of the former) or solely passes[35] (for the latter).

It is unclear whether Visalia Transit’s farecards use magnetic stripe or smart card technology. The agency describes the cards as “plastic[36]” and “reloadable[37],” attributes characteristic of contactless smart cards, and an appendx to a TCRP report lists the agency as amongm many respondents to a survey (of transit agencies) that used “contactless (or other) electronic payment system.” Regardless of their technology, the agencies’ farecards, which only be used to store transit passes, link to an online account, from which patrons can add value[37]. Visalia Transit’s riders can use their farecards qualify for discounts[36] at businesses that range from restaurants to hoverboard stores[38].

  1. Kudler, Adrian Glick (September 17, 2015). “There's Now One Card to Pay For Every Transit Ride in Los Angeles County.”
  2. Williams, Andy. “Cubic Receives transit contracts for central computer and clearinghouse integration for Los Angeles region.” 14 April, 2005.
  3. EE Times (6/1/2009). “L.A. Metro Taps NXP's MIFARE Plus for Contactless TAP Ticketing”.
  4. Attachment B to Metro File No. 2017-0272. “Procurement Summary: Universal Fare System.” file:///C:/Users/Huff/Downloads/Attachment%20B%20-%20Procurement%20Summary.pdf
  5. Goodwin, John (Monday, April 3 2017). Clipper Expands to Union City Transit.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lyne, Malcolm (2011). “Clipper: The History of a Successful Systems Integration Project.”
  7. Rudlick, Roger (February 2017). “Clipper Update and the Potential to Rationalize Fares.”
  8. San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (2016). “Compass Card.”
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 De Kozan, David (June 4, 2014). NFC Payment Solutions for Transit: Easing Regional Mobility. Presentation.
  10. San Diego Metropolitan Transit System Board of Directors — Minutes. April 14, 2016.
  11. San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (July 13, 2017). “Fare Collection Update,” Attachment C1 to MTS Executive Committee Meeting-MINUTES. June 1, 2017.
  12. Connect Transit Card (2017). Connect Card: It’s Here!
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 C. Courtright personal communication (September 2017).
  14. 14.0 14.1 Monterey-Salinas Transit (2017). “Fares: Overview.”
  15. Model based on 2012 joint procurement mentioned in:
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Genfare (2016). Fast Fare Revolutionary Farebox.
  17. Tuckett, Richard (August/September 2016). “Genfare links with Porterville Transit.” BusRide.
  18. However, Clipper Cards can be registered online. For more, see Birch, et. al. “Tomorrow’s Transactions The Transit Reader.” 2013. [1]
  19. See Acumen Building Enterprise, Inc, United States. Federal Transit Administration, Transit Cooperative Research Program, Transit Development Corporation, & Booz Allen Hamilton. (2006). Smartcard Interoperability Issues for the Transit Industry (Vol. 115). Transportation Research Board.
  20. Clipper Executive Board Meeting Agenda. May 13, 2017. [2]
  21. 21.0 21.1 “Fare Collection Update,” Attachment C1 to Metropolitan Transit System Executive Committee Meeting-MINUTES. June 1, 2017. [3]
  22. Attachment B to Metro File No. 2017-0272. “Procurement Summary: Universal Fare System.”
  23. Wattenhoffer, Jeff (May 26, 2017). “Metro’s TAP Card System is Getting Major Upgrade.” [4]
  24. MassTransit Mag.  “Sacramento Partners with INIT for Electronic Fare Collection Solution.” MAR 18, 2014. [5]
  25. APTA Buyer’s Guide. “INIT-Innovations in Transport”.
  26. “Seamless Fare Integration Study for Detroit Region.” January 2015.
  27. Porterville Transit. “Fares and Passes”. [6]
  28. Tuckett, Richard (August/September 2016). “Genfare links with Porterville Transit.” BusRide. [7]
  29. J. Bedolla, Personal Communication. November 2, 2017.
  30. Monterey-Salinas Transit (2017). “GoCard.”
  31. PMC Consultants (December 2014). FYs 2011-2013 Triennial Performance of Monterey-Salinas Transit. [8]
  32. Santa Cruz Metro Transit District (2017). “Buy Passes Online.” [9]
  33. Santa Cruz Metro Transit District (2017). “Fares.” [10]
  34. “FAX Fare Media--Information and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Reseller Outlets.” [11]
  35. Merced TheBus. "How to Operate the Farebox." [12]
  36. 36.0 36.1 Visalia Transit. "How it Works." [13]
  37. 37.0 37.1 Visalia Transit. "Reload My Card." [14]
  38. Visalia Transit. "Participating Retailers." [15]