NJ Transit is expanding the mobile app to include unbanked drivers

One of the joys of the NJ Transit app is no more fumbling around with bills and coins or constantly making sure you have exact change for the fare on buses.

These mobile app benefits have eluded drivers who don’t have access to credit or debit cards or a bank account.

That’s changing with NJ Transit’s announcement that drivers can load cash onto the app at 1,000 participating retailers, as the app’s latest feature, which launched in 2013 and has 4 million accounts.

The app allows passengers to purchase electronic tickets and passes to pay for bus, train and light rail fares, as well as providing trip planning tools, timetables and real-time arrival times.

Transportation advocates called cash payments a good first step for an underserved community of drivers.

NJ Transit officials made the announcement Tuesday and the Cash in App feature is now live for drivers who have the latest version of the app, said Jim Smith, a spokesman for NJ Transit.

The latest feature is not offered by other regional transit systems, such as Like the MTA, which launched their Traintime app for Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road. This app does not provide cash top-up option.

Customers can top up cash at participating network merchants in New Jersey such as 7-Eleven, Walgreens, CVS and Family Dollar. By converting cash directly into a digital credit in the NJ Transit app, riders can purchase NJ Transit e-tickets and passes.

“There is no fee for the customer to load cash into the app,” Smith said. That means a customer who hands over a $20 bill to a participating retailer will see it as $20 in digital credit on the NJ Transit mobile app, he said.

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Currently, only participating retailers can convert cash into the NJ Transit mobile app, Smith said, meaning ticket sellers at NJ Transit terminals and stations can’t load cash onto a customer’s app.

“There is a wide network of participating retailers to make transactions quick and convenient,” he said.

The feature is seen as helping the working poor and other low-income unbanked drivers who have not been able to use the app.

“This is a great first step for NJ Transit in their commitment to a modern fare collection system,” said Talia Crawford, Tri-State Transportation Campaign Advocacy and Organizing Manager. “The diversification of the payment system is so important and makes NJ Transit accessible to more drivers, including the unbanked.”

A cash option for the app was a recommendation in Tri-State’s Bill of Rights proposal for bus drivers in 2020 and part of a larger report on improving buses in 2019. But those who can’t afford a smartphone are left with no option, she said.

“This new payment still leaves a number of riders behind,” Crawford said. “TSTC recommends that NJ Transit offer reloadable cards that can be used for payment, these can be purchased and recharged at participating retailers.”

The New York MTA does this using the OMNI card system, and it could be replicated in New Jersey to ensure fair usage for all drivers, she said.

NJ Transit is currently working on its own transit card, which will hopefully be in the hands of passengers by the end of 2024. A two-year, $2.5 million contract was approved last April with Giesecke+Devrient of Germany to provide the physical tickets. This smart card is also intended to serve unbanked drivers, officials said.

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Passengers who have the latest version of the app installed can tap “More” in the bottom right corner of the screen, then “Payment Methods” and then “MyTransit Wallet”. This brings up a barcode for loading payments and the current account balance

NJ Transit has sweetened the pot by offering the first 2,000 customers who deposit cash into their My Transit wallets a $5 credit towards NJ Transit tickets and passes within 30 days.

The new feature offers a benefit to both the agency and clients who have not previously been able to use the app, NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett said in a statement.

“It also promises to further reduce cash and paper tickets and leverages a nationwide retail network to expand transit access, particularly for the unbanked,” he said.

The free app is available for download in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected]