The plastic CharlieCard has for years made riding the MBTA more convenient, allowing passengers to store and reload fares on a durable piece of plastic and easily access the transit system with a simple tap on a fare reader.
Getting a card, however, has been often been a challenge, usually requiring the assistance of a customer service agent or a trip to a handful of select locations where cards are distributed.
But that’s about to get easier: Throughout 2021, the MBTA will be upgrading fare machines to dispense the cards, in addition to the paper tickets the machines currently dispense. Those paper tickets are also getting a modest tech upgrade.
“While they may not look all that different from what we’ve had in place for the last 15 years, [the upgraded machines] do have some important benefits for riders,” Adam Veneziano, who is leading the MBTA’s transition to a new fare system, told the agency’s governing board on Monday. “They’ll dispense CharlieCards for most product purchases for riders who don’t already have one, so there won’t be the need to run around looking for someone that may have a card.”
The MBTA will begin the upgrade this spring, but has not yet determined which stations will be first, said spokeswoman Lisa Battiston. They “will gradually be available at all stations and stops on the Red, Green, Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines where we have vending machines today,” she said.
The change comes ahead of a much more significant revamp of MBTA fare technology that will replace the existing system with one that can accept tap-in payments from different sources, such as smartphones and credit cards. While the first signs of that project have begun to surface with tests of the technology on certain buses, it is well behind its original schedule and won’t be complete for several years.
When the MBTA disclosed the delay, officials pledged to fix the existing system in the meantime with improvements such as the CharlieCard dispensers.
The vending machines will still dispense paper CharlieTickets. And for certain fares that still require them, such as commuter rail passes, the T is promising to upgrade the tickets so riders can simply tap them, too, on fare readers rather than feed them into subway fare gates. Aside from offering riders a certain degree of convenience, this should also lead to fewer maintenance problems with the gates, officials said.
Until recently, one of the major differences between paper tickets and plastic CharlieCards was the price. Fares using plastic cards were cheaper, because the MBTA wanted to encourage more riders to get one. But the agency eliminated that differential last year amid criticism that it was unfair when it was so difficult for some riders to even find plastic cards.