The MBTA plans to move to an all-electronic fare collection system by 2020 that will eliminate on-board cash payments, introduce a new type of CharlieCard, and allow passengers to board vehicles using smartphones or credit cards.
The key to the system will be electronic readers on every mode of transit, similar to those now used to read CharlieCards at subway stations and on buses. They will be installed either on board or at access gates or station platforms. Riders will be able to link CharlieCards, a credit card, and smartphone to their payment accounts, and use any one to board a vehicle, tapping the card, or phone at an electronic reader.
The effect on passengers will vary depending on what they use to board vehicles today.
■ If you use a plastic CharlieCard: If the plan is approved by the agency’s board on Monday, the T will introduce a new plastic CharlieCard that passengers will use to store fares or passes, as they do today. Riders can still add value to these cards at vending machines or online. Importantly, the new system can also automatically renew monthly passes, rather than having riders remember to reload the pass at the start of each month.
The new plastic card will come with a hitch: it will cost a small fee to obtain one, likely $5. The idea is to cut down on the number of cards issued to replaced lost ones, which costs the T money. The agency said it will work with municipal governments or nonprofit organizations to distribute free cards to low-income passengers.
■ If you use the paper CharlieTicket: You won’t anymore. These tickets, dispensed at subway vending machines, will go the way of the subway token. Instead, vending machines will dispense the new plastic cards.
■ If you use cash on board vehicles: This is the most stark change to the system and will mostly affect bus, above-ground trolley, and commuter rail riders. Instead of paying on board, cash customers will be able to buy a plastic CharlieCard from a vending machine stationed at their local stop — similar to those already used in subway stations — or from a nearby authorized retailer. The vending machines and retailers will also be able to add value to existing accounts.
The MBTA says paying with cash on these vehicles slows the boarding process and the commutes for bus and trolley riders. On the commuter rail, the T believes the new system will allow conductors to merely verify payments rather than collecting them, speeding up a process that is often slowed or outright abandoned on crowded trains.
■ If you use the mobile app on commuter rail: The new system will allow electronic readers to automatically scan smartphones and verify tickets, so the existing mTicket app will no longer be necessary. Riders will scan their smartphones at readers on station platforms before boarding. Conductors will use portable electronic readers on board to verify tickets, instead of visual inspection.
■ If you get a reduced fare as a senior citizen: As long as you qualify for the reduction, you’ll still get it.
The new system does not directly affect the cost of fares. This project will change the technology to collect fares, not how much the T charges for them. That said, the agency is limited in how often it can raise prices, with the next opportunity coming in early 2019, so by the time the new system is in place your commute may already cost more than it does today
The T also says the new system will give it more flexibility to try different types of fares in the future — such as different prices based on time of day, or charging bus and subway passengers based on how far they travel. But these ideas would require policy changes, separate from the technology that would enable it.