The Secret to Getting Around the Transit App Pay Wall – It’s In the Details.

image description: text reads “…did someone say free” above a logo for the Transit app. Thre large question marks are in the background of the image

Transit App unveils new paid subscription, taking away access to key features. Free access is available, just message Transit in their app.

Launched in 2019, Transit app has become one of the nation’s leading real-time public transit trackers. For those unfamiliar, Transit uses a crowdsourcing model to collect data of live bus times via user tracking and user engagement. Similar to the navigation app Waze, Transit app will collect data from your trip, and use that data to provide more accurate information to users. The app also asks questions such as “Was your bus on-time, early, or late?” and “How crowded was your bus?”

The app quickly became an important tool for many riders. Transit app reports that “Each month, more than 75,000 people in the Pittsburgh area open the Transit app for their commute. On any given day, approximately 40% of Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) riders will open Transit to assist with their trip, and about 75% of all app-based PRT fares are sold through the Transit app.”.

But unfortunately for transit riders, the app just rolled out a new paid subscription service, Royale. With this new feature, non-paying users will no longer have access to bus departure times if the stop is outside of a few block radius. 

Transit app’s policy lead, Stephen Miller, was recently said in a WESA article on the MovePGH, “if riders can’t afford a subscription that they can send a message through the app and Transit will provide one, ‘no questions asked.’”

We think riders should have access to our public data, without cost being a barrier. So according to Transit, here’s how riders can get free access:

Click “Upgrade to Royale,” scroll down to Can’t afford it? and click the “Learn more” button. Here you will encounter Transit’s explanation for why they're requiring a paid subscription to access certain features. They say they are “offering a limited number of free subscriptions” by clicking “just send us an email and ask” you are brought
  1. Click “Upgrade to Royale,”
  2. Scroll down to Can’t afford it? and click the “Learn more” button.
    Here you will encounter Transit’s explanation for why they’re requiring a paid subscription to access certain features. They say they are “offering a limited number of free subscriptions”
  3. Click “just send us an email and ask” and you are brought to their form requesting a free subscription. You are prompted to provide your email address and to answer the question, “How does the Transit app help you get around?” 

Transit App received our City’s public support and promotion, which resulted in the rapid growth of its user base over the 2 years of the MovePGH pilot. They have been collecting and monetizing transit rider data, and are now charging those of us who provide their data to access basic services. It’s also worth noting that Transit App itself collected data showing that the base of their users in the Pittsburgh region are disproportionately very low-income. If we, the riders, are the ones collecting the data, why do we have to pay to be able to benefit from that data, and particularly given the knowledge that most riders can’t afford to pay?

How PRT’s app can be improved:

While Pittsburgh Regional Transit does have an official real time transit app too (Ready2Ride), Transit app is easier to use and shows multiple transit mode options. We believe that access to transit information should be free and widely available by all residents, even through the Transit app, given that they were selected and promoted by the City of Pittsburgh as a key partner in the MovePGH initiative. But this is good time for PRT to invest their resources into developing a comparably good and free option for riders. These are some of the key fixes that we want to see from PRT:

  • PRT’s policy bars all riders with a disabled fare card from using the in-app mobile fare payment unless they relinquish their card at customer service. But with technology breaking, batteries dying, and inconsistent internet, why would riders hand in their only secure way to pay fare? PRT should change the policy to allow all riders to benefit from new technology and allow riders with disabilities to both have access to a disabled fare ConnectCard AND comparable services on the app.
  • All the features should be available in PRT’s Ready2Ride app without requiring riders to navigate to the second page.
  • When riders select “Track My Vehicle”, they should be able to see a map right away.
  • Navigating the app is not intuitive – riders have to dig through several menus to find real-time information. The most common features require riders to click through several menus to find basic information. 
  • App is not connected with ConnectCard – riders cannot see their ConnectCard Balance or reload a card on it. It operates entirely separate from physical ConnectCard and new balances on the Connect Card should be reflected immediately. 
  • There is no feature to tell riders “where they are” in relation to the bus they need to take. (For example, if location services are turned on, Google places a moving blue dot to represent the users,  and  where they are on a map in relation to their surroundings and names landmarks and transit stop icons nearby). 

Riders deserve access to quality, real-time transit route and planning information for free, whether through Transit App in the interim, or through a future iteration of the PRT Ready2Ride App. And this is just another reminder for the City of Pittsburgh that public-private transportation partnerships are inevitably harmful for those with the least means and access.