AUSTIN (KXAN) — Capital Metro is revamping its ticket-buying app to eliminate confusion over when tickets expire and to give fare inspectors more information before they write citations for passengers with expired passes.
The changes, in response to feedback and complaints from riders, represent the first significant updates to the transit company’s smartphone app since it launched nearly five years ago.
Rich Bassemir would have benefited from the update when he took a MetroRail train from northwest Austin to downtown on a Saturday in August. The retiree was heading into the city to see his girlfriend and bought a single ride ticket on the app around 1:30 that afternoon.
He activated the ticket as he got on the train at Lakeline Station around 4:20 p.m. “Train got down to Kramer Station [two stops away] and stopped,” Bassemir said. “And it was a torrential, one of our torrential Texas rains came down.”
The train was delayed and didn’t arrive downtown until after 6, he said. The trip is typically about 45 minutes long, according to CapMetro’s schedule. When he got to the end of the line, a fare inspector checked his phone for a ticket, but the app said he didn’t have one.
The inspector wrote him a $75 citation.
“Quite honestly, it was kind of humiliating, you know,” Bassemir said, “’cause I’m not a freeloader.”
The problem arose because tickets are active for only an hour once activated, so with the delay, it expired before he reached the downtown station.
CapMetro says the one-hour limit is designed to keep people from using the same active ticket to ride multiple times, but the longest ride on the train, from Leander to downtown, takes 58 minutes, according to the schedule, so there’s little room for errors or delay.
The company says there’s a one-hour grace period built into the system so that inspectors don’t issue citations due to normal delays, but the app currently doesn’t allow inspectors to see when a ticket was activated, just when it was purchased.
So, as in Bassemir’s case, if the ticket was purchased hours before the ride, but not activated until boarding, the inspector wouldn’t know, and could write a citation.
CapMetro says that will be changing in the app update, expected to go live within the next month or so. Inspectors will be able to look back at when a ticket was activated to give them more discretion. That and other changes are the result of years of feedback from riders.
“Some of it was just unsure of when your pass expires, you know, when you buy it how long is it good for,” said Jonathan Tanzer, the company’s project manager in charge of the app.
The existing app does display when a ticket expires and warns riders before buying that it’ll only be active for an hour after activating, but the update will make it more clear, Tanzer said.
Riders will also be able to buy tickets directly from an inspector at the end of the trip if something goes wrong with their fare so that they can avoid getting cited.
In just the last six months, CapMetro said they’ve received 49 complaints about citations, but a spokesperson said Bassemir’s was the only one related to a fare expiring before the end of a ride.
The transit company explained in that situation, a rider has 30 days to call CapMetro and sort out what happened before the citation is referred to municipal court. Bassemir called the next week, and after looking into what happened, the company reduced the citation to a warning.
Still, the experience left him scratching his head. “I got a ticket for not having a ticket when I had a ticket!”
He’s taken MetroRail since then with no problems, but he said he’s more careful about when he activates his tickets now. Instead of doing so before boarding, he activates his fare once he’s already on the way to his destination.
“Personally, I think having the rail system is a great idea,” he said. “It’s just some of these little nuances that, maybe figure out a better way of doing it.”