When Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) officials look into the future, they see riders tapping preloaded smart cards as they get on the bus.
After two years of planning, public transit officials in eight Tampa Bay counties are now unveiling a $12 million plan to allow prepaid bus plans to be used throughout the region. Partners range from Citrus and Hillsborough Counties down to Sarasota County.
Jeffrey Seward, chief financial officer of HART, said the program will take up to two years to complete, but by September he is hoping riders will be able to buy daily, weekly and monthly plans for use in all eight counties. He said riders will be able to use their plans by showing their smart phones for payment.
"Not only are we bringing our technology forward, for the first time ever we are allowing our patrons to be able to...to go between the different transit agencies and counties," he said.
The project is being funded by HART and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority in addition to a $2 million grant from the state. Hillsborough County officials said they are hoping the project will also positively affect the efficiency of the bus system.
"We are looking at reducing boarding times, which in turn reduces idling times for our vehicles. Idling times equates to larger carbon emissions," Seward said.
At the end of the project, boxes will be installed on all buses that riders will tap with their preloaded card. Riders will also be able to use regular debit and credit cards, even an Apple watch.
Once the payment boxes are implemented, other counties may be asked to pay for maintaining the system, Seward said.