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When Cities Don’t Accept Cash for Public Services

This year saw a wave of backlash against cashless retail, but what about when cities like Washington, D.C., want to move toward all-digital payments?
New York City's transit agency recently rolled out their OMNY system to encourage riders to use contactless payments.
New York City's transit agency recently rolled out their OMNY system to encourage riders to use contactless payments.Brendan McDermid/Reuters

I hardly notice the quick succession of beeps anymore as my fellow commuters board the D.C. Metrobus, paying with a tap of their SmarTrip fare cards. But every now and then, I hear the clanking of coins being dropped into the fare-box, or I look up to see someone inserting a wrinkled bill into the slot, only for the box to spit it out.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says transactions like these slow down their buses, which recently received a D on speed and reliability from the Coalition for Smarter Growth. In 2018, WMATA mulled over whether it should make some of its express buses cashless to improve service. That, unsurprisingly, didn’t sit well with advocates for the poor who argue that eliminating cash payments discriminates against low-income and elderly riders who depend on the bus and are more likely to be unbanked or underbanked.