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Digital bus fare payment option launching next year in qathet

Public engagement sessions to be held at Town Centre mall and library

For the past year or so, BC Transit has been busy rolling out an electronic fare payment option for bus riders on Vancouver Island called UMO (pronounced you-mo). The provincial crown corporation is now planning to implement the cashless, digital payment app/card in 24 more transit systems, including qathet Regional District (qRD).

For more than 40 years, the only option for those without a bus pass or prepaid transit tickets was to pay cash.

BC Transit staff will be visiting the region on Tuesday, December 12, from 11 am to 1 pm at the Powell River Town Centre mall; Wednesday, December 13, from, 5 to 7 pm at Powell River Public Library; and again on Thursday, December 14, from 11 am to 1 pm, at the mall (near CIBC entrance).

The "tap" or contactless payment system means riders tap a card or phone app when they step onto the bus, similar to the Compass Card used in the Lower Mainland. UMO will be launched here in early 2024.

"BC Transit is going to be rolling out our new UMO fare collection technology in Powell River in the new year," said Ryan Dennis, director of revenue development for BC Transit, while speaking to the Peak about the new system.

"At the engagement sessions we have transit staff who are coming to help inform and educate transit riders on what the introduction of UMO means, and what their best options are for how to adopt it."

Dennis said riders can download an app onto their phone and/or buy a reloadable card. 

"We want to give people the opportunity to come and learn more and talk to somebody in person," said Dennis.

Cash will still be accepted but Dennis believes the app and card will increase folks' access to transit by removing the need to continually visit a retail vendor or needing cash in their pocket to pay the fare.

"The card is reloadable and designed for continued use," said Dennis. "Or riders can use the app, so the benefit [for transit users] here is that you don't really have to think about how you are going to pay for transit."

Dennis said later next year the use of debit cards and credit cards for single-use fare payments will also be implemented. So far Victoria Regional, Cowichan Valley Regional, Regional District of Nanaimo, Comox Valley Regional, Campbell River and Port Alberni Regional are now using the digital system.

Dennis also said that he hopes the new system will increase bus ridership. According to Townfolio, a public data collection service, on average, 100 residents in the qathet region use public transit daily.

Anecdotally, those who do depend on the bus to get around have complained that the system is not direct, not frequent enough and slow. A seven-minute car ride can take up to an hour on transit in qathet.

According to the BC Transit website: “Population and traffic growth means we need to shift our focus from moving cars to moving people. To minimize the high economic, environmental and social costs of traffic congestion and road expansion, we must move people more efficiently. Transportation should take us where we want to go, when we want to go there.” 

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