Applying an Equity Lens to Automated Payment Solutions for Public Transportation

Aaron Golub, Portland State University


  • Anne Brown, University of Oregon
  • Candace Brakewood, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • John MacArthur, Portland State University


As transit agencies modernize their fare payment systems, opportunities to pay with cash are reduced. This speeds boarding and lowers the cost of operations while also creating new sources of ridership data. Arguably, service is improved for riders as well, where payment systems work across modes, and in some cases different transit providers, creating a more seamless and simplified experience. Still, about 15% of adults in the United States are without a bank account or credit card account and many rely on restrictive cell-phone data plans or don’t have access to a smartphone. These shares are even higher for public transit users. As transit fare technologies move further from cash, these un- and under-banked and digitally excluded riders will find it more difficult to conveniently pay their transit fares. This project will research and evaluate practices to address equity issues in cashless fare payment systems. This project will catalog existing equity solutions implemented by public transportation agencies and review existing evaluations of impacts on transit riders. Equity solutions and impacts will be evaluated for different types of riders encountering different barriers in using fare technologies. Next, this project will develop two frameworks to evaluate the effectiveness of these equity solutions from a user and agency perspective. More in-depth case studies will illustrate how equity solutions work to address fare payment barriers. Finally, a specific analysis of cost effectiveness will highlight best cases to mitigating equity issues at minimum cost for agencies. To achieve these goals, this project will employ a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. It will create a comprehensive review of existing practices and existing evaluations of those practices. The project will utilize existing data sets, including on-board surveys and data sets from automated fare payment systems to understand the barriers faced by riders and how they are currently addressed. The project will also develop new data using qualitative approaches, including interviews and focus groups with both riders and agency staff, alongside utilizing larger data sets from surveys and smartcard–related data. The project will produce a set of recommendations for best practice and least-cost approaches to mitigating and reducing barriers for un- and under-banked and digitally-excluded riders.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
December 31,2020
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Pooled Fund Round 3
UTC Funding: