Electronic fare system for Edmonton and regional transit launches Nov. 21

As of Nov. 21, people using public transit in Edmonton will be able to pay for their standard adult LRT or bus fare using ARC — a tap-on, tap-off account-based electronic payment system.

That means you no longer have to carry loose change, cash, paper tickets or paper monthly passes. However, paper tickets and passes are still being accepted as fare payment for the time being.

Passengers in five of the seven regional partner communities, including Strathcona County and St. Albert, will also see this payment option launch Nov. 21. The timelines for full implementation will vary by region. The regional partners — Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove and Beaumont — will all use the same Arc card digital system.

“This is something I know riders have been asking for,” said Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager of Edmonton Transit Service.

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Arc cards are credit card-sized plastic cards that can be preloaded with any dollar amount between $4 and $500. They can be tapped when entering and exiting buses and the LRT stations. With Arc, money is stored in a secure online account, not on the card itself.

Read more: Going digital: Edmonton reveals Arc card smart fare transit payment system

The top two benefits of the electronic payment option are convenience and accessibility, Hotton-MacDonald said Tuesday.

“Our hope is that it’s making it more convenient for someone to take transit,” she said.

ETS’ focus is providing a “safe, reliable, convenient experience for riders in the region,” she said, adding they’ve also been asking for a more modern approach to fare payment.

The fare-capping feature means no one will be charged more than $10.75 a day or $100 a month, no matter how many trips they take or how often they use transit.

“Once that cap is reached, the rider rides for free for the rest of the day or month,” Hotton-MacDonald explained.

“Fare capping is a really important measure to support equity.”

She said the Edmonton region is the first in Canada to offer regional fare capping. It will be applied automatically.

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Edmonton reveals Arc card smart fare transit payment system

The pay-as-you-go feature also gives people more payment flexibility, especially if they can’t afford the cost of a monthly pass up front.

“With pay as you go, the really great feature — again, supporting equity and reducing barriers — you can load your pass in any increment.”

Once Arc is phased in for standard adult fare rides, it will be phased in for discounted fare groups, including youth, seniors and low income groups, starting in 2023. Paratransit will also be phased in next year.

People will be able to sign up for Arc, check their balance and add money to their card online at myArc.ca, by phone (1-888-302-0001), at in-person service centres and at fare vending machines at transit stations. They can use credit cards or debit cards to add money — in any increment — to their card.

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Other Arc features include balance protection and automatic reloading when the balance dips below $10.

Arc tickets are also available. They act as a single-use transit ticket that’s valid for either 90 minutes or a day-use ticket. There are card and ticket readers on the front and rear of transit buses and fare validators in LRT stations.

“This is a really exciting day for transit riders and for the region,” Hotton-McDonald said.

There is no firm date set for the phase out of paper tickets and transit passes, she added.

Hotton-MacDonald said the main goal of Arc is convenience and accessibility, and its primary focus is not necessarily to target fare evasion.

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Right now, ETS operates as an open payment system with proof of payment. However, she said if the city decided to implement a closed-payment system with fare gates, the Arc system would be compatible.

ETS ridership is currently in the “low-80s” (per cent) of what it was pre-pandemic, Hotton-MacDonald said, which is in line with other similar transit systems, like BC Transit and TransitLink.

She believes Arc will “further support recovery of our ridership and growth.”

The entire project was $53 million, with some funding coming from the provincial government and some from the regional partners.

The union that represents Edmonton transit workers sent out a news release, saying Tuesday’s announcement was “exciting news.”

ATU 569 president Steve Bradshaw said Arc will not only make transit more accessible and convenient, it also “demonstrates that successful regional collaboration currently exists between Edmonton and its regional transit partners without costly commissions and CEOs.”

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