Thursday, May 26, 2011

New fareboxes for VTA and SamTrans

Recently, VTA introduced new fareboxes on selected buses as part of the testing phase. Last year, VTA approved the replacement of fare boxes as the original fare boxes become obsolete.

As part of the transition to new fareboxes, VTA will also change the way it sells day passes onboard buses. For many years, VTA preprints day passes and distributes to the drivers daily. Riders using the day pass can just show the pass to the bus driver. After the transition to the new equipment, the new fareboxes will encode and print a "smart" day pass once the fare is paid. Riders using the new day pass will tag the pass on the sensor located on the farebox (pretty much like how riders using Clipper cards to pay the fare, except Clipper users tag on the Clipper reader, not the farebox).

When riding the light rail with the "smart" day pass, just present the "smart" pass to the inspector upon request. When riding the bus with the day pass purchased from a light rail ticket machine, just show the pass to the driver.

The new fareboxes will also feature a magnetic stripe reader. If you ride using a Highway 17 Express or MST passes, just slide the pass on the reader.

In the meantime, SamTrans also ordered new fareboxes from the same manufacturer, and will rollout the new fareboxes this summer just like VTA.

With the new fareboxes, SamTrans will provide two new features. The first is the change card, which is given to riders that put more money into the farebox than the fare itself. The riders can then use the change card for future rides on SamTrans. The second new feature is the long awaited day pass (to be introduced in 2012 after a fare study and public hearings).

Because getting change beforehand can be very difficult, the new change cards will certainly benefit cash riders and reduce boarding times. Rather than holding the bus and digging into the pocket for exact change, or ask fellow riders for change, the rider can just put a $20 bill in and knowing that he or she is not overpaying. The exact change requirement at many agency is a barrier for bus usage (whereas ticket machines at light rail, Caltrain, or BART can give change).

Unlike VTA, SamTrans is not planning to implement "smart" day pass. Riders with Summer Youth Pass or day pass will slide the pass by the magnetic stripe reader. Riders with change card will dip the card onto the top slot. Like VTA, Clipper users will tag the card on the Clipper reader located separately from the farebox.

The co-current introduction of new fareboxes and Clipper marks a dramatic transition of fare payment at both agencies. Eventually, preprinted passes would become history. As agencies and riders become more accustomed to new fare media, new features like fare cap and 31-day passes (instead of pass based on a calendar month) are becoming possible.


arcady said...

So wait, am I understanding this correctly? VTA is installing fareboxes with a smartcard reader, and rolling out a smartcard system, shortly after the MTC spent a considerable amount of money installing smart card readers and rolling out its own smartcard system? What exactly is the logic behind this? Did negotiations with the MTC over the day pass break down? Is the MTC terminally wedded to their model where all money must go to the MTC so that Fifth Third Bank can make money off the float? Is that why can't this be just like the CharlieCard system in Boston where you can add money to a card by depositing it into a bus farebox? I assume that the VTA is not totally insane, just occasionally constrained by crazy local politics. But from the MTC and the Translink/Clipper project, one can expect just about anything.

accountablevta said...

I suppose the smartcard is vendor specific, so it might be more difficult to implement if it has to be Clipper, since VTA already has a separate reader for Clipper. On the other hand, VTA could use magnetic tickets like MST, Santa Cruz, SamTrans, and Golden Gate.

VTA should still have a way to buy day passes with cash. VTA could go the LACMTA route which you need to have a Clipper like smartcard in order to buy day passes on the bus, but could still buy paper day passes from Metro Rail machines.

arcady said...

I think the difference is that in LA, the system is run by the LACMTA, and so they can do whatever they want with their bus fareboxes and ticket machines. Around here, Caltrain and VTA can't even add Clipper support to the ticket machines in the stations, or to the fareboxes on their buses. Another interesting case to look at would be the ORCA card in the Seattle area, where there are also a whole bunch of local transit agencies, but much better integration of the various transit providers into the ORCA system. I suspect this is because the agency responsible for ORCA, Sound Transit, is also responsible for operating (or at least contracting out the operation of) various regional bus, light rail, and commuter rail routes, as opposed to just being a planning bureaucracy like the MTC.

Peter said...
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