For many bus riders in Fresno, forgetting to bring $1.25 in exact change can mean a missed ride or losing money, as FAX buses don’t make change. A new system is about to give people more options to pay fare without exact change.
The Fresno City Council approved a contract on Thursday to launch a “smart card” program for FAX riders. Smart cards are plastic cards that riders can load any value onto; every time they ride FAX, fare is deducted from the value or pass that is loaded onto the card. According to Gregory Barfield, director of Fresno’s Department of Transportation, the cards should be available for riders to acquire around May.
The cards, called “FAX GO,” will be free and available to pick up at any FAX pass outlet or at the Manchester Transit Center. Cards can be loaded with any value or pass, including reduced-fare passes, at any FAX pass outlet, the Manchester Transit Center, or at FAX ticket vending machines along Route 1/Q. Fare can be loaded with cash, credit, or debit cards.
Initially, FAX GO cards will be available only for use on FAX buses. The city is in early discussions with Clovis to expand use of the cards on Clovis’ transit system, according to Barfield. No plans are in place to expand use of FAX GO on Fresno County Rural Transit or the V-Line connecting Visalia and Fresno.
The FAX GO cards were originally scheduled to be implemented with the rollout of Fresno’s first bus rapid transit line (Route 1/Q), which began in 2018. However, the project has faced budget pressures and has been scaled back.
FAX staff had to find another funding source for the smartcards – which will cost $686,721 for the city to procure and work with a vendor to establish a processing system for fare revenues. Funds for FAX GO are now coming from Federal Transit Administration funding that FAX routinely receives in addition to operating funds from fare and pass revenue.
Despite these challenges to improving efficiency along FAX routes, ridership continues to grow, from 907,000 trips in September of 2018 to 974,000 trips in September 2019, an over 7% increase, well above the national average of .07% over that same time period, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Transit experts often attribute gains in ridership to improvements in service frequency and ease of use.
And there are plans to develop a mobile app for people to purchase fare and board with their smartphones, according to Barfield.
For updates on FAX GO and service updates, visit www.fresno.gov/transportation/FAX.