Column: What I learned about paying fares by riding a Bloomington Transit bus

On Saturday, I got on a Bloomington Transit bus at the Atwater Avenue stop on just west of The Inkwell Bakery and Cafe on Woodlawn.

When I boarded, I fed the box a one-dollar bill—that’s the standard fare for a Bloomington bus. I had to plan ahead to make sure I had a dollar bill, because I don’t generally carry cash around.

But in the future, I’m not going to worry about having a dollar bill to ride the bus.

It turns out there’s an electronic payment option even for rank-and-file bus riders like me, who are not connected to Indiana University or the city of Bloomington. (Affiliates of IU or the city government can ride just by showing the driver their ID.)

In the future, I will be showing the driver my pulsating smartphone screen, which shows a valid fare has been paid. That’s made possible through the magic of Token Transit, which is the company that Bloomington Transit uses to provide this service.

I already knew generally about Token Transit as an option, because I wrote about it for The B Square four years ago, when Bloomington Transit first contracted with the company.  But at that time, the Token Transit app was just a way for BT riders to buy a monthly pass. There was no option to just load up your phone with individual rides.

I’m not sure when this feature was rolled out, but it’s now possible to purchase an individual BT bus ride on Token Transit. I wish the interface allowed a user to pick a number of individual rides, and add that number all in one step. But the kludge for that is to just keep hitting the “Add to Cart” button—until you have added as many rides as you want.

When it comes time to ride the bus, you fire up the Token Transit app, pick one of your stored electronic tickets, and activate that ticket. For the next hour, the app’s screen will show a green pulsating circle and a ticking digital clock display. Show that to the driver, and they will let you board the bus.

This way of using Token Transit is a good solution for people like me, who ride the bus maybe a handful of times a month—way fewer than would warrant a monthly pass.

It is also good as a backup plan, even if you almost never take the bus. Or if you’re a parent, you can load up your kid’s smartphone with some rides, which gives them the option of riding the bus home, if they wind up stranded somewhere.

I would not have known about Token Transit’s buy-one-ride feature, if I had not taken the bus on Saturday.

I had no real destination that day, except the bus itself. Likely future mayor Kerry Thomson and likely future city councilmember Isak Asare had announced they were going to be hosting a “ride-along” listening session starting at 2 p.m. at the downtown transit center, leaving on the Route #3 bus at 2:40 p.m.

I figured the best way to watchdog that operation, as well as to monitor on-time performance for BT’s Route 3, would be to post up at the bus stop on Atwater. The bus was on time. Thomas and Asare were on board. There’s photographic evidence of both included with this column.

It was a full bus, so I had to make my way to the back to find a seat. From there, I was still able to hear BT’s marketing and development manager Kathy Schultz respond to questions. It was from Schultz that I heard that Token Transit now offers the buy-one-ride feature.

I’m glad I got on the bus on Saturday, because I learned that the Token Transit app is not just for monthly passes. And now you know, too!

12 thoughts on “Column: What I learned about paying fares by riding a Bloomington Transit bus

  1. Thanks for the information. Good to know for those of us who don’t always have cash

    1. The city funds the bus line with help from IU. Does the county help fund?

      1. Indiana University and the city of Bloomington both have an agreement under which they pay Bloomington Transit a contractually agreed sum to allow for their affiliates (faculty, staff, students for IU, and employees for city of Bloomington) to board without paying an individual fare. I don’t think county government has such an arrangement.

  2. Thought I recognized you (from your website) when you boarded the bus. My first time riding it and it was an enlightening experience.

  3. Sounds like a great plan. What about the marginal market? Or individuals who use public transit about 70% of the time, aren’t app friendly and/or lack access to the internet? Also, MCCSC have a plan for their students with or without a mobile device?

    1. Riders can buy monthly or semi-annual passes at the Transit Center at 3rd & Walnut, or at the BT office on Grimes. The mobile app isn’t mandatory.

  4. Wow… i wonder if BT ever planned to let anyone know about this. Now they just need go have some useful routes and actually run on time

Comments are closed.