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KPBS Midday Edition

MTS Adds Long-Delayed 'Stored Value' To Compass Card

An MTS rider swipes his credit card at an MTS ticket machine in April 2013.
Katie Schoolov
An MTS rider swipes his credit card at an MTS ticket machine in April 2013.
MTS Adds Long-Delayed 'Stored Value' To Compass Card
MTS Adds Long-Delayed 'Stored Value' To Compass Card GUEST: Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. A change in the way people can pay for San Diego's public transit could help boost ridership. That is what MTS officials are hoping as a introduced a system called compass card . Starting today writers of the bus and trolley will be able to load and store money on their cards. Joining me is and you grow in. Apparently the sending Association a government promised this kind of stored value a decade ago. Would spin the holdup? You said innovation. I was thinking innovation of 10 or so years ago. They promised when Sandag was conceiving of the compass card payment system. There wasn't a lot of pressure on them to add stored value. We found that as they were heading over ownership and management of the compass card system to MTS there was a timeline that rolled out stored value by March 2014. Some emails of staffers said that they were experiencing glitches and they are not sure that it was worth all of the effort or their time. So I started reporting on some of those promises after that a nonprofit group launch a campaign that add stored value and they got some board members on board with the campaign and here we are. How was the stored value system on the compass card different from the way people pay for San Diego public transit? The compass card was good for daily multi-day and monthly passes only. So you cannot load in store money on the card to pay for single rights as you wish. You can load money. I did an hour go. You tap your card on the card reader and it detects a single fair unless you ask for a day pass and the cost of one and writers for whom it's not worth buying a monthly pass or day pass would have to keep a stock of single bills and quarters to pay for single right. Who are the writers that are going to use the stored value function? They are called choice writers. People who have options other than public transit to get around. These are a minority of public transit riders in San Diego. Most people have no other option and they have no car but attracting the choice writers people who have other options of getting around is crucial to expanding the use of public transit and maximizing those investments and the state schools of reducing greenhouse gas emission. Have they been growing over the past several years? No. It's been falling. This is a trend that's not exclusive to San Diego. We are seeing this across the country. There's competition from Cooper and Lyft and investment in new public transit infrastructure across the country. Whether or not stored value will have a significant impact on ridership I think it is unclear. Listeners may remember you are reporting on another compass card issue that they haven't met data security standards. The cards themselves haven't met those standards. That hasn't been fixed with this rollout has a? MTS says they been making improvements to security both online and in the physical infrastructure of the vending machines and they are going to be presenting some new information about that to the board of directors of MTS in the coming months. The system is not compliant with the standards that are set by credit card companies. It would take a significant amount of money to actually reach compliance with those standards. Instead what they said that they are working on further down the road is what's called the next generation their collection system that will improve data security but make their payment whole lot convenient. There different ways that that can turn out. We don't have a lot of information right now and there's also no deadline that -- for implementing it. They will be giving a presentation on that. We will see how much new information we get there. So don't load your life savings on your compass card . There is a $300 limit. If you choose to load on your card you can registered for balance protection online to go so if you lose your card, you don't lose your money. I've been speaking with Andrew Bowen. Thank you. Thank you.

MTS Adds Long-Delayed 'Stored Value' To Compass Card
Starting Wednesday, public transit riders in San Diego will be able to store money on their Compass Cards. The function, branded Compass Cash, was promised a decade ago before the Compass Card system came online.

Starting Wednesday, San Diego public transit riders will be able to load and store money on their Compass Cards and use their balance to pay bus, trolley, Sprinter and Coaster fares.

The new "stored value" function, branded Compass Cash, fulfills a promise made a decade ago when the Compass Card system was first being created. Shifting priorities and software glitches have repeatedly delayed its launch.

RELATED: San Diego’s MTS Compass Card Stuck In The Past


Mark Olson, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transit System, said customers can add to their Compass Cash balance online, at the agency's transit store or at a ticket vending machine.

"It's a really convenient option for the occasional riders or those people who want more flexibility for their payment options," he said.

San Diego has long been conspicuously absent from the list of cities offering a stored value option to public transit riders. The nonprofit Circulate San Diego launched a campaign last year to pressure MTS into adding stored value.

"We're really excited to see stored value being implemented by MTS," said Colin Parent, Circulate San Diego's policy counsel. "This new improvement is going to make the transit system much more accessible and affordable for all kinds of San Diegans."

Stored value tends to benefit so-called "choice riders" — those who may own a car but choose to ride public transit on occasion. Previously, the only way to pay for a single ride on a bus was with exact change in cash. In March MTS launched a new mobile ticketing app, Compass Cloud, that allows transit riders to buy daily and multi-day passes on their smartphones.


Olson said riders using Compass Cash should register their cards for balance protection with MTS in case they lose their Compass Cards.

The Compass Card system first came online in 2009 under the management of the San Diego Association of Governments, which plans and funds public transit. SANDAG handed the system over to MTS, which operates public transit in most of the county, in 2014.

Last year, KPBS reported the Compass Card system was failing to follow the data security standards set by credit card companies, placing the personal information of thousands of transit riders at a greater risk of being stolen. The data security gaps have existed since the card system was first implemented. Should a data breach occur, taxpayers and fare-paying transit riders would likely have to cover any resulting fraudulent charges.

The Compass Card system is still out of compliance. Olson said MTS has made security upgrades to its system and that staff would be giving more details to the agency's board of directors in the coming months.