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St. Albert to launch transit tap cards this fall

The city is part of a regional transit program to incorporate Smart Fare cards as payment for bus service.
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FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert transit riders could be ditching paper bus tickets for a tap card this fall.

On May 17, St. Albert city council approved changes to the transit bylaw to include language around electronic transit fares in preparation for the new Smart Fare system. Smart Fare is a regional account-based electronic payment system that will allow transit users to pay for a bus ticket with an ARC card, a re-loadable tap card. 

"Some of the wording needs to be updated to reflect the new form of payment coming on stream," said Will Steblyk, manager of planning and customer service with St. Albert Transit.

Participation and investment in the Regional Smart Fare System was approved by St. Albert council back in 2012 as part of a regional project submitted to the province for GreenTRIP grant funding, according to the agenda backgrounder. At the time, city administration estimated St. Albert would be on the hook for $600,000 to install the necessary equipment at stations and on buses.

"Most of it has been installed on the buses, but there's additional hardware that needs to be installed," he said.

The tap-on, tap-off payment system will be introduced in phases, starting with Edmonton, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, and Spruce Grove at the end of May. To start, the cards will be distributed to friends and family of city employees to test how the system works before the first phase of operation begins Aug. 29, Steblyk said.  

Coun. Sheena Hughes asked when the earliest date would be for when people can purchase a Smart Fare card. Stebylk said the cards will be made available before Aug. 29. He also clarified that the paper bus tickets and cash payments will still be allowed under the bylaw. 

Post-secondary students registered with UPass will get their cards through their institutions. The replacement fee for a new card is $6, an improvement for the current system, which charges up to $180 for a UPass replacement, he said.   

Changes to the bylaw give the city's chief administrative officer Kevin Scoble control over transit-fare pricing. In an email to the Gazette, city spokesperson Cory Sinclair said details on pricing will be available by the end of May.

During the presentation, Steblyk told council that the language changes "in no way compromise council's ability to establish fares or fare prices," calling it "more of a house-keeping practice that is consistent with the wording that will be used in the bylaws of our regional partners as well." 

Coun. Wes Brodhead, who is the co-chair of the Regional Transit Services Commission, said the amendments ensure the bylaw can accommodate the new system once it comes online. 

"There's a number of updates within the bylaw just to make the language current, but it also introduces the idea of Smart Fare payment," Brodhead said. "I gotta tell you, I'm pumped to see this come because it's been a long time gestating. It's a good thing, we're moving into the 21st Century here."

Council passed all three readings of the bylaw amendments unanimously.  

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