TRAVERSE CITY — A $900,000 technology upgrade will introduce smart cards and electronic bus passes into the area's public transportation agency and even provide a throwback to a service that went out of style on buses four decades ago — making change.
Federal and state grants paid for the new electronic fare boxes that will debut on Bay Area Transportation Authority buses Monday. BATA officials said the fare boxes are part of an overall strategy to put BATA on the leading edge of technology to make ridership easier and more efficient for its customers.
"It's an amazing journey and it's going to make it a whole different organization that will add a lot more value to the community as a whole but in a lot of different ways," said Tom Menzel, BATA executive director.
The electronic boxes will accept payment through three different methods: temporary, paper zip ticket cards with a magnetic stripe used for a specific time period, or cash value; plastic smart cards that customers can continuously add cash value onto, and cash.
Riders who pay with cash and don't have the exact fare will receive a ticket for the value of their change that can be used for future rides.
The zip tickets will replace the blue punch cards and will allow BATA to now sell 24-hour or 72-hour bus passes. The cards can also be purchased on the bus for a specific cash value.
Zip tickets will allow BATA to better track ridership and know the value of outstanding pre-purchased rides, said Carrie Thompson, BATA director of business development. Several agencies in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties purchase and distribute the blue punch cards and BATA has no way to accurately track them.
Riders can still use the old punch cards through Oct. 31. After that they will need to exchange the punch cards for zip tickets.