"You can get anywhere with this": Fare payment media and mobility's materialities

Authors: Joseph Gallagher*, University of Oklahoma
Topics: Transportation Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: mobility, fare, smartcards
Session Type: Paper
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Paper tickets, tokens, and smartcards are all seemingly discrete objects that grant their holders access to different modes of public transit. These "personal infrastructures" of mobility, however everyday and banal they may seem, are really quite complex — the result of decisions of transportation planners and other institutional actors who seek to modernize transit systems via technologies that purport to simplify fare capture, that in turn combine with other objects to produce a passenger/rider and enable their mobility. However, fare payment media remain under-discussed in relation to their role in the enablement and constraint of movement. While much work in mobilities has foregrounded mobile materials and materials that make mobile, little has been said about fare payment media. This is surprising as, for example, recently renewed efforts to combat fare theft by New York’s MTA highlight the importance of fare capture to public transit providers, and as agencies transition to smartcards to simplify fare structure and even integrate fare payment with other types of financial transactions. What can we learn about fare payment and transportation planning regimes by studying fare payment media, this critical "stuff" of mobility? This paper presents a brief account of several instances where fare payment media presented problems for transport providers and riders of the Philadelphia area’s SEPTA system. It seeks to show how fare payment media is rarely "just" about fare capture, and how changes to fare payment media at once necessitate new modes of fare enforcement and invite new ways of transgression.

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