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San Joaquin Transit Moving Toward Seamless Fare Payments

San Joaquin Metro Express at Delta College, pre-pandemic. Photo: San Joaquin RtD

San Joaquin County transit systems have partnered together to provide their riders with a seamless and contactless way to plan trips and purchase fares. EZHub is a cashless mobile ticketing and fare payment system. It is now integrated with the regional agency’s trip planner app, Vamos Mobility, which was launched in 2019.

“There is no paper exchanging hands, which is timely and effective at a time like this,” said Diane Nguyen, executive director of San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG).

Transit riders open the Vamos Mobility app, choose a transit agency, and select and purchase tickets. They can also pin their location on the app, see which agencies serve routes that can get them where they need to go, and buy a ticket immediately. The ticket is downloaded to their phone, and activated upon boarding the bus or train.

Nguyen said that the community is slowly becoming aware of the app, but the shelter-in-place orders that asked people to avoid unnecessary travel has slowed its adoption. SJCOG is working on a marketing campaign and looking at community partners to help spread the word, but right now the agency is letting the pandemic guide priorities.

Before the pandemic, transit agencies had been facing low ridership, but Nguyen expects the app to help bring back riders. “It lets customers know that [transit] is safe and [that] transit agencies are following implementation safe practices,” she said.

All of San Joaquin’s bus transit and rail operators are currently partners on the Vamos Mobility app and EZ Hub, and there are plans to reach out to other transit agencies in surrounding counties as well. The more agencies that join, the more useful the app will be to riders, especially when it comes to transferring between agencies.

Partners include the ACE commuter rail system that connects Stockton and San Jose; San Joaquin RTD, which provides bus service in the Stockton metropolitan area and some parts of the county; Manteca Transit, which offers fixed-route and paratransit connections between Manteca and the San Joaquin RTD routes; Lodi’s Grapeline fixed-route service; and fixed-route services in Tracy, Escalon, and Ripon.

SJRTD and ACE have been using their own mobile route app, Token Transit, which made it possible for riders to buy passes online, but the other small transit systems do not have the resources to develop their own apps.

The city of Tracy, which has the second largest population in the county, hosts one of those small agencies, called TRACER. Jayne Pramod, transportation coordinator for the city of Tracy, said it is still too early to notice the impact of EZHub. But she said, she has already heard from at least one rider, who reached out to tell them that being able to purchase the ticket online was very convenient, and boarding the bus was easy.

Like other agencies throughout the state, TRACER has seen its ridership drop between 60-70 percent since the pandemic began, but have kept their routes running to serve their customers. Nguyen said that SJCOG hopes to use EZHub to help promote the convenience and safety of systems like TRACER.

“Once on the app, riders will notice that there are routes that connect them to other cities and might be inclined to take those too.” She said.

The name Hub fits because, she says, “it brings all of these together.”

Vamos Mobility and EZ Hub was made possible by a combination of local funding and the California Air Resources Board’s California Climate Investments program.

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