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All-electronic MBTA fare system appears indefinitely delayed

Sweeping changeover for the T was supposed to wrap by mid-2021

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The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s much-ballyhooed switch to an all-electronic fare collection system modeled after the one in London is unlikely to be fully implemented by spring 2021 as planned.

It is unclear when the MBTA might finish rolling out the new system or what has caused the delay—though the Globe’s Adam Vaccaro reports that it likely has something to do with “technology issues” as well as policy decisions.

The all-electronic, tap-and-go system has been touted as a way to drastically speed up service throughout the T. Among other changes, it is supposed to mean the end of paying for any T rides with cash. Instead, riders will use a fare card, a smartphone app, or a contactless card to tap and board.

Riders will be able to reload the cards and apps online and at vending machines in all T stations and at select bus stops.

Also, this all-electronic servicing is supposed to provide the MBTA better data to track and tweak service, and to allow it to test new initiatives such as discounts for lower-income riders and integration with micromobility services such as bike-shares.

For now, the switchover is still on—its schedule is just unclear. San Diego-based Cubic, the vendor the MBTA had selected to implement the system, has hinted at technical trouble. The agency itself also appears to need more time to work out policy such as how to conduct the sort of spot checks that an all-electronic system will require. Stay tuned.