Article Highlights

Key Takeaway:

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, board of directors is expected to award a contract Thursday for its planned fare system to Germany-based INIT, which beat out incumbent supplier Cubic Transportation Systems for the deal. The contract for an account-based ticketing system supporting open loop was one of the largest fare-system tenders this year in the U.S.

Key Data:

MARTA last November estimated the contract would be worth between $260 million and $390 million, including 10 years of operations and maintenance.

Organizations Mentioned:

• MARTA (Atlanta)

UPDATED: The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, as expected, awarded a contract today for its planned fare system to Germany-based INIT, which beat out incumbent supplier Cubic Transportation Systems for the deal, Mobility Payments has learned. Mobility Payments had reported the expected award Wednesday.

The project, dubbed Automated Fare Collection System 2.0, will implement open-loop payments as part of an account-based ticketing system for Atlanta’s four-line subway, 500-plus fixed-route buses and light-rail streetcar. The $245.7 million contract had received preliminary approval from board members serving on the Planning and Capital Programs Committee Sept. 28. The full board approved the contract today.

MARTA last November had estimated the contract would be worth between $260 million and $390 million, a projection that the agency said included 10 years of operations and maintenance. According to a summary of INIT’s lower bid, released by MARTA, INIT will charge $126.3 million for “licensing, maintenance and support” over 10 years. A presentation at the Sept. 28 meeting refers to this as “software licensing, hardware and software maintenance and support services.”

The “base term” of the contract, which would mainly include capital expenses, amounts to $118.8 million. MARTA in a release today said the new fare system will be deployed over the next five years.

Capital expenses will include a new back office and all new or upgraded validators on subway gates at 38 stations and on board the more than 500 fixed-route buses. The buses will also get new fareboxes, which will include the new validator and reader functionality. U.S.-based Genfare will supply the new fareboxes, working with INIT. Genfare had supplied the old ones. The buses may have acceptance devices on the back of the vehicles, as well as on the front.

There will also be new or upgraded validators along the 12-stop streetcar loop and possibly on more than 200 paratransit or demand-responsive vans. MARTA will replace ticket-vending machines, as well.

The agency, in a 1,300-page RFP, said it planned to launch open-loop payments on all modes by July 2025. That may be only a partial rollout by then. It will accept four card brands, Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover, with physical credit and/or debit cards and card credentials in NFC wallets connected with Apple Pay and Google Wallet.  

MARTA plans to have “…functionality available on all modes” of the fare system, including closed loop, by June 2026, in time for the World Cup, according to the RFP. Atlanta is one of 16 cities in North America that will host matches.

The new fare system will replace MARTA’s aging Breeze card, which the agency launched in 2006. MARTA plans to roll out a white-label EMV card in place of its existing Mifare-based Breeze card, though it will continue to make Mifare DESFire-based cards available as a backup. It will also continue to issue low-cost Mifare Ultralight cards for limited use, according to the RFP.

MARTA’s Adam McGavock, manager for the new fare system project, said the agency’s staff recommended that INIT receive the contract because it had the highest technical score, lowest price and had supplied similar fare systems to agencies in Portland, San Diego, Seattle, and Tampa, Fla. within the past five years. McGavock said the agency had received proposals and bids from five vendors and narrowed the list to three then to two finalists. INIT and Cubic were the two finalists, Mobility Payments has learned.

The contract win for INIT will be at least the second time the vendor will be replacing Cubic as incumbent. It earlier won a contract from the Metropolitan Transit System, or MTS, in Cubic’s home base of San Diego, to replace the Cubic-provided Compass card with a new closed-loop Pronto card. Pronto launched in September 2021. MTS plans to introduce open-loop payments in the spring, as Mobility Payments recently reported.

But the loss of MARTA probably stings more for Cubic, since San Diego is believed to have had particular demands for its new fare system that may have helped INIT win the contract. Atlanta, on the other hand, was the “first real major displacement of Cubic,” said an industry observer.

This follows Cubic’s high-profile loss of a 15-year, AU$1.7 billion (US$1.1 billion) contract in Melbourne, Australia, in the spring. Cubic executives complained about the selection of its rival Conduent for the project in a letter to the head of the Victoria government that leaked. The loss of the contract is believed to have led to an internal shakeup in the region for Cubic. The failure to win the MARTA contract could have consequences, as well, especially since, as the incumbent, it was Cubic’s project to lose.

It’s difficult to displace incumbent vendors, which often find ways to lock themselves into fare-system supply contracts.

For example, elsewhere in the U.S., Ohio-based NEORide, a council of governments consortium of agencies, is expected to award a new contract to UK-based Masabi to continue to provide software-as-a-service ticketing to more than a dozen transit agencies across multiple states, Mobility Payments has learned.

NEORide in the spring had issued a request for proposal to expand its fare system. The agencies likely would have to pay to replace hundreds, even thousands of validators if they select another vendor.

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