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An Ocean City bus sits at the 144th Street terminal before its evening run. Currently, bus drivers can only accept cash from riders but transportation officials are looking to launch a pilot program later this year to offer a credit card payment option.

People who want to ride the bus in Ocean City right now better make sure they’re carrying cash.

But in a summer or two, that may not be the case, as an electronic payment option gains traction and officials look into eventually phasing out cash payments altogether for bus ridership.

“My personal goal is to come up with a system that has minimal interaction between the driver and the customer, that is not specifically app-based as a transit app because the majority of our users are not transit users — they came here on vacation,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said during a recent transportation committee meeting on the possibility of instituting an electronic payment option for city buses.

He said department officials are working with members of the IT department to roll out a pilot program on a few buses in the early summer or late spring and determine how passengers react and how functional the system is for operations and accounting.

If all goes well, buses could have an electronic payment option for the 2023 season.

“And I would envision that unless something changes knowledge-wise between now and then, we would leave the old-fashioned fair box on there for the time being, allow someone to use cash as a transaction until we wean our way away from that,” Adkins added.

The implementation of non-cash payments for city buses is a delicate process.

Adkins explained in an email that buses are considered federal assets because they are bought with federal grant money. In turn, the use of the bus when it comes to advertising revenues, charter use and the like is “highly regulated by federal terms.”

“The use of a credit card device, if it is associated with revenues being generated by a third party like a credit card company, will fall into that regulated area,” Adkins said in the email. “Therefore, we need to proceed with caution and due diligence to avoid violating any federal regulations.”

Officials plan to research methods that other municipal transit systems are using to determine the pros and cons and get ideas for how to implement their own system.

The Boardwalk trams, on the other hand, have been accepting electronic payments and recently started using handheld Clover devices to swipe credit and debit cards for the summer 2021 season.

George Peake, the city’s transportation operations manager, said in an email that the seasonal conductors and ticket booth operators that used the devices, as well as the customers, seemed pleased with their performance.

He said the Clover devices accounted for an average 37.5 percent of ticket sales per month while the trams were in operation from May to October and that it took 45 to 90 seconds to process each transaction.

Peaks added that officials looked into using Clover devices on buses but that they were “not suitable.”

“It requires driver interface and takes too long when boarding multiple persons per bus stop,” he said. “With a probable bus Clover transaction taking 45-90 seconds, the buses would soon be behind schedule. This compares to … bus cash fare transactions taking 30 seconds or less.”

This story appears in the Jan. 7, 2022 print edition of the OC Today.

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