Change for Cash Payments
Offering change can enhance rider convenience and the usability of the transit system. However, it also entails significant operational challenges such as increased dwell times, as well as safety and security concerns if operators have access to cash. For these reasons, most major American transit systems accept exact cash fare only upon boarding.
Historically, offering change was far more common. In New York, bus operators gave change for cash payments until 1969. The practice was ended primarily over safety and security concerns, since bus robberies were sharply increasing at the time. Officials cited shorter dwell times and reduced operator distraction as secondary benefits.
Research has found a trade-off between the efficiency enabled by only accepting exact fares and “good customer relations” facilitated by offering change.
Today’s Fare Payment Landscape
While almost all transit agencies continue to accept cash in some form, it is now just one of a variety of fare payment options. Today’s transit rider may pay using a farecard, a near-field communications (NFC) enabled credit card in an open system, or a mobile ticketing app. Riders using these methods of payment do not need to worry about the availability of change on the transit vehicle, but may be concerned with the ease of loading cash onto the farecard.
So Why Consider Offering Change?
Many riders do still pay with cash. In a 2019 survey, 30% of LA Metro bus riders paid cash on the bus.
When Offering Change Might Be Especially Helpful:
- To enhance convienience for occasional riders who may not have a farecard or know the exact fare.
- To attract tourists, especially in regions without a mobile payment or open farecard option.
How to Offer Change
Transit agencies may not want to offer actual cash change to riders, and understandably so. Still, various technologies exist to offer some sort of change without the cash handling challenge.
- Fareboxes can print change cards, usable for future rides or potentially exchangeable for cash at a central location.
- Transit agencies can also offer to sell or reload farecards on the transit vehicle, avoiding the overpayment issue but potentially increasing dwell time.
- Shifting to a proof-of-payment system, with all fares and passes sold outside the transit vehicle, can avoid the change concern assuming fare machines have the capacity to make change. This can also speed service and reduce dwell time by enabling all-door boarding, a common strategy for bus rapid transit (BRT) systems.
- Sulzberger, A. G. (2009, August 31). When Bus Drivers Stopped Giving Change. City Room. https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/when-bus-drivers-stopped-giving-change/
- Vandebona, U. (1985). The Effects of Fare-Collection Strategies on Transit Level of Service. Transportation Research Record, 9. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/trr/1985/1036/1036-011.pdf
- Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, (2019). On-Board Customer Satisfaction Survey http://media.metro.net/projects_studies/research/images/infographics/bus_results_fall_2019.pdf