CAPITAL REGION — Starting Monday, paper Swiper cards for Capital District Transportation Authority buses will no longer be sold.
In 2018, the region's mass transit agency will require all customers who don't pay cash (about half of the 17 million riders CDTA carries each year) to use the new Navigator cards. The Navigator cards use "smart card" payment technology that's been in development for the past five years and has been introduced gradually since 2015. There are currently 10,000 Navigator cards registered.
Those who use the Navigator card get ride discounts, paying $1.30 for a standard bus ride instead of the $1.50 paid by those who use cash. The discount rate is also available to those who use a mobile payment app on their smartphones.
Going forward, the Navigator card will be required for anyone who does not pay in cash. The last day the paper Swiper cards will be sold is Dec. 31, though Swipers sold up until the deadline will still be good on CDTA buses until March 31.
"It's a significant change for the customer," CDTA Director of Marketing Jonathan Scherzer acknowledged. "But it's really designed not to disrupt people, so we can get them where they need to go."
He noted that many transit authorities, including those in Boston, Atlanta and Chicago, have also switched to "smart card" payment systems.
It's a change for the better, Scherzer said, with more security features, including the ability to have a card canceled if it is lost or stolen. People aren't required to register their Navigator cards but are encouraged to do so, to allow for easy cancellation, if necessary.
The Swiper cards have been sold in various denominations, including an unlimited $65 monthly pass and a 10-trip pass. But it's been impossible to limit a single card's use by multiple people, or to track down a lost or stolen Swiper card.
The Navigator card, which has been in development since 2012, addresses those issues by having the card electronically assigned to an individual who can determine what value to keep on the card — anywhere from $5 to $500, Scherzer said. The cards can be replenished online, at CDTA sales offices or at many supermarkets that sell CDTA passes.
To use a Navigator card, the card is "tapped" against the fare box, which electronically deducts $1.30 from the user's account but won't subtract more than $3.90 per day, Scherzer said. (If you ride the bus more than three times per day, the additional trips are free.)
Those with universal access passes — including students at most of the region's colleges and some employers — won't be affected by the change. Scherzer said those with universal access passes account for about 25 percent of all riders.
In another aspect of the changes starting Jan. 1, the cards of half-fare customers — including senior citizens, disabled people and military veterans — will include photo identifications that will make it harder for ineligible people to use half-fare cards.