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Friday, April 16, 2021

A New Way I Learned To Save Money on Public Transportation


This post is dedicated to my friend Babs who is responsible for this way I've been saving money lately.

I live without a car. Once in a while I'll rent one, but I use the bus generally to get around. Where I live there's a bus to the nearest city, and if the intercity bus doesn't reach where I want to go, then within the city I can either take another bus (or many) or take the light rail or a combination.

Our buses to the city cost 85 cents. Within the city buses cost $1.70. It used to be you could get a transfer if you pay cash, but then they changed it and you could only get a transfer within 1.5 hours if you used a smart card to pay for your fare. You could fill up your smart card on the buses. With the smart card, for every dollar you put on you get an extra 25 cents added to the amount of money on your card. With a child's smart card, for every dollar you put in, you get 2 dollars. Then when you used the card the fee would come off the card's total, but because you got more than you put in, you still got a discount, half off for the kids and 20 percent off for you. You also get an automatic transfer when using these cards within an hour and a half.

In addition to this, you can also get a daily pass on your card. Either a daily pass for within the city (and intercity to places with cheap bus service like where I live) or more expensive ones for larger locations, such as between different cities and within them, with different fares depending on where you were going, which was generally significantly cheaper than paying for fares each way. The daily pass within the city was only worth it if you took the bus at least 3 separate times (not within 1.5 hours of each other). The intercity pass was always worth it.

Then things got more complicated.

It used to be that you could buy one of these daily passes on the bus or using a smartphone that had NFC capabilities, or using something that connects to your computer or smart card. Then they made a rule that you can't fill smart cards on the bus anymore (or pay for a paper ticket). They put machines around the cities where you could fill your smart card, but they don't have daily passes especially not to different cities, from what I could see, and they don't have such machines in my town.  The problem is that most smartphones, especially the newer ones, and the older ones as well, are not NFC capable. Of all our phones in our home, only one has NFC, which means I can't fill it with daily passes. I need to get a wire to connect to my computer so I can fill it that way, but since I haven't yet, any time I'd travel I'd pay for each individual fare unless I was taking buses within the city within an hour and a half.

Then Babs told me about this new way of paying. It was using an app on the phone, scanning a QR code to show the phone which bus you were on, input where you were going, and then pay that way. Or rather you were told an estimated price, but you were only charged at the end of the day. Based on how far you have traveled, there is a daily cap for how much you pay. So you can end up traveling many times and only pay a certain lower amount. This isn't exactly a daily pass, but it ends up working out similarly enough, and definitely cheaper than paying for each ride individually (even including getting transfers). For example if you go from city A to city B and back in one day, you would get charged less than the fare there and back because there is a cap on how much you travel within a certain distance, and round trip doesn't take any more distance.

I was skeptical about this, to be honest. I don't like not knowing how much I'll be charged for something before it happens. (It's part of why I stopped shopping to a certain guy at the open air market, because he didn't have prices listed and you just had to trust that you were getting a good deal from him, and you usually were, but it's not a guarantee and you couldn't price compare.) 

But Babs convinced me to at least give it a try.

I downloaded it onto my phone and I saw just how easy it was. The first time I tried using it was when I went to another city and back in one day. The bus fare each way costs $4.14 and then buses within the city cost another $0.70. From my town into the city costs $1.71 each way. This means that if I just paid individually for rides from my home to the further city and back, without taking any bus within the further city, it ends up being $11.70. But using the app at the end of the day I just paid $9.90. 

That convinced me. That already saves me money. 

But then Babs taught me something else. 

If someone is a beneficiary of the local national insurance agency, our equivalent, of sorts, to social security, they are automatically eligible for a 33% discount on their fares. All of them. Which makes this automatically worth it. Period. No comparisons. Even without this discount, I discovered that I saved money via paying with the app, but with the further discount, it's even better. I am a beneficiary of the national insurance because my child support is paid through it. Other people who are low income and get an income supplement can get it. People who are on unemployment benefits I think are also eligible. And if someone is on disability instead of a 33% discount gets a 50% discount, as do children.

I now am a very loyal user of the app. Of course it helps that it means I don't have to carry cash and don't have to worry about filling my card. 

Every day at the end of the day I get a bill. And so far every single day my daily bill has been ridiculously low. If I stay within my town and the nearest city, the daily fares have been anywhere from $1.40 to $3.60 but more often around $2.30. 

Additionally, if you spend more than a certain total per month, you get a discount. If you spend more than w amount buy less than x amount you get 25% off, if you spend between x and y amount you get 50% off, and if you spend between y and z amount you get 75% off.

Basically, it's totally worth it.

The one downside? It doesn't yet work on the light rail in the nearest city. That is the only downside. So I make sure that my route doesn't involve the light rail and all is good. It does however work on the intercity train.

I am so excited about this, and I feel so silly that I waited so long to try it out. Sometimes you do have to just try something and hope it'll be worth it, and in this case, it definitely has been. 

Do you take public transportation? Have you figured out any way to get the best bang for your buck there?

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