People using public transportation in western Massachusetts will soon be able to tap into 21st century technology.
Starting Monday, people using the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority will be able to pay with what’s called the Charlie Card. Used by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority since 2006, the card has an electronic chip that allows travelers to pay for rides without having to worry about cash or a paper ticket.
“We thought it would be a good method because it’s so user-friendly for our customers to use,” BRTA administrator Gary Shepard said. “The Charlie Card is not only reusable and rechargeable, but you can also store value on it. Folks don’t have to worry about buying tickets and losing the ticket. The Charlie Card is very, very easy to use. You can just get on a bus, tap it on the yellow spot on the fare box and off you go.”
Travelers can add money to their Charlie Card at fare boxes right on the bus and can check the card’s balance as well. Customers can still pay with cash, but those using the electronic ticketing system will enjoy a lower fare. Travel between two towns costs $1.75 cash. Using the Charlie Card, it’s only $1.40. To travel through three or more towns, a customer paying cash dishes out $4.50, while a person utilizing the card pays just $3.60. A how-to video on the BRTA website also points out another advantage to using the Charlie Card.
“When paying with cash, insert the bills and coins until fare is paid,” instructs the video. “If you over pay no change will be issued.”
The Charlie Card can also be used within 12 of the state’s 16 other regional transit authorities, including the MBTA subway and bus systems. Shepard says that feature is useful for the younger crowd.
“That could be particularly attractive for college students who visit friends or maybe take courses in other parts of the commonwealth,” Shepard said. “This is interoperable in those areas.”
Jeanette Orsino is the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Regional Transit Authorities, or MARTA. She says the transit authorities that haven’t utilized the Charlie Card don’t have the necessary fare boxes, even though the boxes were recently purchased using state and federal money. For those in western Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley and Franklin Regional Transit authorities don’t currently have the Charlie Card feature available, nor does MBTA commuter rail, which currently only goes as far west as Worcester and Fitchburg. Orsino says she hopes in the future, connecting the entire commonwealth using various modes of transportation can be done under the same electronic paying system.
Orsino says MARTA is talking to colleges to incorporate the Charlie Card system into student and faculty ID cards.
“We’ve been talking to colleges as well, because of the chip that’s in it, can you have it so it’s your transit card, cafeteria card and bookstore card…having one thing that you can use everywhere,” said Orsino.
BRTA is handing out Charlie Cards at Berkshire Community College, Lee Premium Outlets, Main Street in North Adams and at other transit hubs in Berkshire County this week.