CapMetro quietly rolls out money-saving app and payment card months late
With little fanfare, Capital Metro launched a new app and payment card this week — months behind schedule. The card and app can save users money on train or bus rides. The transit agency is also rolling out cheaper fares for people with lower incomes but not planning to publicize it widely until a marketing campaign this fall.
The new app is available for download now. The new "Amp card" can be picked up for free at the Transit Store at Ninth and Lavaca streets.
If you're using either to pay a fare, CapMetro will stop charging you after you spend the equivalent of a day pass in a calendar day or a month pass in a a calendar month. A day pass is $2.50. A month pass is $41.25.
The discounted fare, called "Equifare," is for anyone in a household earning less than double the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that's $60,000 a year.
Also eligible for Equifare are people enrolled in one of several social assistance programs including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. A single Equifare ride costs $1 instead of $1.25. A monthly commuter bus and rail pass would be $77 instead of $96.25.
People can start applying for Equifare now.
Riders aged 65 and older, Medicare card holders and people with disabilities would still get a 50% savings on fares, as required by the Federal Transit Administration. Active duty military personnel also ride for half price.
CapMetro thinks almost three in four riders could qualify for Equifare, based on old ridership surveys from 2015. The transit agency averaged more than 63,000 boardings per day in June.
The new fare structure and technology was announced back in March 2022 with a launch planned for early 2023. But last December, CapMetro told its board that the project would be late, probably not starting until summer 2023. In a memo, staff blamed their software developer Bytemark, the same firm that made their existing app.
"We couldn't even go to an external pilot [project] until we made sure that we got all of those anomalies worked out," CapMetro executive vice president and chief financial officer Catherine Walker told KUT. She wouldn't go into detail about what went wrong with the app. "Sometimes you don't know what you don't know ... until you come across it."
Bytemark's $1.6 million contract was cut by more than $200,000 in July, according to partially redacted documents. CapMetro says the money went to pay for extra hardware needed for the new system.
Bytemark didn't respond to requests for comment.
Some people have already been using the new app and Amp card for weeks. CapMetro ran a two-month test with 400 riders and worked their feedback into the app.
But the system isn't ready for everyone yet.
On Thursday afternoon, employees at CapMetro's Transit Store at Ninth and Lavaca streets would hand out Amp cards from behind their plexiglass windows. But they were couldn't load them with cash.
CapMetro says the Transit Store, Walgreens, CVS, 7/11 and other stores have the technology to load Amp cards, but employees might not have been trained yet.
If you have a smartphone or a computer, you can start saving on fares now by loading money electronically.
Exactly how much the new fare system would eat into CapMetro's revenues isn't yet clear. The transit agency hired California-based consultant Four Nines Technology to study the costs of capping and reducing fares. But Four Nines didn't analyze how lowering fares could increase ridership.
The company also relied on 2019 data captured before the COVID pandemic cut ridership and changed how many people use transit.
Even a significant drop in fare revenue would only put a dent in CapMetro's budget. Fares account for a little more than 2% of the $782 million CapMetro expects to take in this year. Most of that cash comes from a 1% sales tax.