StarMetro, the transit system of Tallahassee, Florida, implemented a mobile ticketing app called Token Transit in 2017, and piloted it until March 2018. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) completed an evaluative report in June 2018 to assess the outcome of its deployment effort. FDOT had previously completed a primary phase in spring 2016 to review existing mobile fare payment systems and to provide a recommendation. FDOT's review of the second phase—the app's deployment—includes an evaluation of an internal beta test by staff members and a public testing of the app by bus riders. It also included an assessment of survey results of public users and an evaluation of staff satisfaction with the app.
The report summarized lessons learned during the deployment and offered recommendations for future operations.
- Start small. The pilot was intentionally limited to include only a small subset of StarMetro's user base. This enabled the pilot to avoid any possible bugs in the application that might overwhelm the agency's limited customer service response and tech support ability.
- Be flexible with the test plan. In order to gauge user adoption rates, it was decided during the testing period to add participants who expressed interest in the app, even if they had not pre-registered and filled out a pre-survey.
- Commit to the pilot. The evaluation recommends conducting an initial pilot as part of a commitment to a permanent deployment, rather than as a temporary test. This avoids discontinuing services to customers that have grown accustomed to it, which may be unpopular with riders.
- Be ready to deal with unexpected glitches. StarMetro found that its free WiFi points interacted in unexpected ways with the pilot technology. For example, the "captive portal" requiring agreement with Terms of Service inadvertently served to make Token Transit less secure, as it was easier to bypass security mechanisms when the app could not connect to the internet.
- Right-size your procurement. The use of an "off the shelf" fare payment app allowed StarMetro to choose an app that had already been thoroughly tested. FDOT's report concluded that this likely led to an overall smoother experience than an in-house app might have had. The off-the-shelf option also worked particularly well for StarMetro as it is a relatively small transit agency with no unusual circumstances or fare structures that might necessitate a bespoke solution.
- Consider technical needs when writing proposals. Survey results indicated that users strongly preferred seeing information within a single app. FDOT's report recommended that agencies require APIs and deep links in proposal responses, as these allow greater flexibility in integration.
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