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All-electronic fare collection on the T: MBTA moving toward London model

Tap and go

The interior of the Orange Line Station in Boston. The walls are orange and white. There is a staircase. Clare S./Flickr

The MBTA plans to switch to an all-electronic fare-collection system by 2020. The move will mean big changes for riders. Chief among those:

  • No more paying with cash on-board trolleys or buses.
  • Instead, riders will likely just tap a credit card or a smart-phone app to a new kind of fare reader.
  • Those buses and trolleys, too, would have fare readers by other doors than just the front ones to allow for all-door boarding.
  • The current CharlieCard system will be rendered obsolete in favor of a new one (which will retain the “Charlie” brand, according to the MBTA).
  • That new Charlie system is supposed to allow riders to add and to store value through online accounts.
  • And commuter-rail riders will pay digitally for trips before boarding (and tap out via app or credit card once trips end).

Why the changes? To speed up commutes, the MBTA says. Or at least that’s the main reason.

An all-electronic fare-collection system, similar to what London has now, will also help the agency analyze ridership data better and then theoretically improve service based on it.

It will, too, allow the MBTA to perhaps sync with other transit systems—including Hubway—to eventually build a unified payment system.