That’s Fare! Tokens, Tickets, and Transfers
Trolley tokens and tickets, now considered a novelty or collector’s item, were once like the trolley itself: a part of everyday life. Trolleys were a technological development that changed the culture and landscape of 20th century America. Riding a trolley was often a daily activity, as people depended on trolleys to get to work, school, entertainment, shopping, and just about anywhere.
Between 1900 and 1914, trolley fares were commonly 5 cents (horsecars and omnibuses charged anywhere from 6 to 9 cents). The transit industry at the time was run by private companies that needed to earn income by charging riders. Interurban railways often charged more to ride, and fares could be calculated based on mileage, ranging from 1.25 to 8 cents per mile. While 8 cents doesn’t sound like a lot of money today, it certainly was in the early 1900s!
In order to speed up passenger boarding time, railways encouraged purchasing trolley tickets in advance to use as fare. These paper or celluloid tickets ranged in size, shape, and color depending on the trolley company. Discounts were offered on bulk token purchases to encourage and increase ridership. Single ticket fares could be purchased for 5 cents apiece or 6 fares for 25 cents. What a deal!
Metal tickets, or tokens, became more popular after 1910. These tokens were often made of cheap aluminum or more costly bronze and featured cutouts in the form of letter shapes to distinguish tokens from monetary coins. Each company had a unique design and the cutout letter represented the community of service or street railway company. Both the front (obverse) and the back (reverse) had designs on them. In addition to single fare rides, travelling to and from work or home oftentimes required passengers to use multiple trolley lines, transferring from one line to the other. While some railways permitted passengers one free transfer or even two, others charged an additional fare of 1 cent per transfer. In 1912, transfer tickets included information such as date, direction, and even a time limit (anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours) to prevent transfer misuse.
Ticket (and Tokens!) to Ride
With money, token, or ticket in hand, riders boarded the trolley and made their way to an open seat. Once all passengers were seated, the conductor would make their way through the car collecting fare, punching tickets, and making change if necessary. While the use of tickets and tokens drastically reduced a conductor’s need to make change, it could still be a difficult task to collect fare or punch tickets during peak hours. Conductors marked tickets to indicate use with ticket punches. Punches had distinctive patterns giving each conductor a unique punch mark.
From 1905-1910, transit companies experimented with different methods of more efficient fare collection and tracking, such as rearranging car interiors to alter passenger flow, fare boxes, and fare registers. Some cars went to a “Pay-As-You-Enter” style in which riders paid the conductor as soon as they boarded, eliminating the chance of missing fares. Other companies installed fare boxes where passengers placed their fare in an open slot in the box’s front. Fare registers were also implemented to assist the conductor in recording the number of fares and transfers collected during their shift.Take a trolley ride at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum to have your ticket punched and check out the upcoming exhibit That’s Fare!
That’s Fare! Activity Guides
Semsel, Craig R. Built to Move Millions: Streetcar Building in Ohio, 2008.