SARTA plans to eliminate unlimited ProLine pass, add Smart Card

CANTON – The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority plans to eliminate the 31-day unlimited ProLine pass and free bus transfers by January.

“We want our (ProLine) riders to pay for each ride versus the 31-day pass," said SARTA CEO Kirt Conrad. “Some people were riding three and four times a day which takes capacity from other people."

ProLine is a service for riders with disabilities who cannot use SARTA's regular fixed-route service. Users can schedule rides to a specified destination in advance. Conrad said each ride costs SARTA about $30. ProLine riders can pay $2.25 for the ride or $63 for a 31-day pass. People who pay SARTA's 0.25% sales tax and the federal government are substantially subsidizing the cost of ProLine rides.

Conrad said SARTA will keep its 31-day unlimited fixed route pass for $45. If a fixed-route rider takes more than two trips on a bus a day, it doesn't increase the cost of providing the service as the bus would have run the route anyway.

SARTA smart cards

SARTA will also begin selling plastic smart cards by the end of the year that can store transit passes and transit value. And new fare boxes on SARTA vehicles will be able to read the smart cards with radio frequency technology. Riders can hold the cards a short distances from the fare boxes without swiping.

SARTA will also sell thick paper passes that can hold day passes and are designed to be used for a shorter period of time but don't have to be swiped in fare boxes.

Riders will lose the ability to ride one bus and transfer to another bus on an intersecting route for one fare of $1.50.

However, riders who buy two bus fares for $3.00 and place the value on their smart cards will automatically get a pass for an unlimited number of rides that day. This option will not be available for riders who pay fares with cash.

“We eventually want to go away from all paper media and all cash," said Conrad.

Conrad said SARTA may charge an additional fee for the smart card in addition to the fare. But it hasn't decided if it will charge a fee and if so, how much. It's not clear if the smart cards will expire.

No more free transfers

The SARTA CEO said his agency is eliminating paper transfers. It wears down fare boxes. And SARTA wants to discourage the use of cash because the task of handling coins and bills has become burdensome, said Conrad.

SARTA will hold virtual meetings through its Facebook page on the changes at 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. June 16.

Conrad said SARTA previously installed new fare boxes that read the smart cards in all 105 of its vehicles. The cost of each fare box is about $17,000 at a total cost of about $2 million, covered by a federal grant. The old fare boxes were about 15 years old and constantly breaking, said Conrad.

He said come January riders will have three options to pay for their fares. They can pay in cash on the bus. They can buy smart cards from vending machines and SARTA staff at transit centers or retail partners with cash or credit cards. Riders can set up an online account tied to the card to add value or passes and transfer them to another card if their card is stolen. Conrad said SARTA is exploring whether to sell the cards by mail. And third, riders can pay for fares and passes for SARTA and surrounding transit systems through the EZFare app.