Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why TriMet needs to go to a SmartCard Fare System

Transit agencies lose money from fare evaders. In Portland this is most commonly seen thru MAX Rides. But lets look at the other side of things, Transfer abuse. I actually have seen one person selling a stack of Transfers on eBay! I have seen people walk up to the bus wondering what Transfer they should use today by looking thru the window to see todays Letter and color. The first step many agencies have taken are eliminating transfers, forcing many to purchase a day pass for a flat rate, that typically is slightly more than 2 rides. Day Passes can be sold, Transfers abused, all this ends with the SmartCard. Each rider has a card, registered to them, with money or a monthly pass on it. If you use the e-cash option, some agencies are bringing transfers back, allowing you to transfer with a specified time limit with your card. Cash customers (non-card) still must pay per boarding with no transfer issued. The card will help agencies recoup more fares, since you can not save up transfers when the only way is a timed smartcard. TriMet would benefit from this system. San Diego is making the SmartCard smarter. It costs $2-2.50 to ride a local or express bus, and $4 for premium express routes, the day passes are $5 and $11 respectively. In the local ride instance, if you board a bus for $2.25, your ecash is charged 2.25 off your card, if you transfer, or board another bus, you are charged the fare again of $2.25. If you board once more, you are only charged $0.50 more for the rest of the day, effectively maxing out at the daypass rate. You then transfer and ride the rest of the day at no charge.

In TriMets case, They could follow Seattle footstep a little bit. Tag as you get on, get charged $2.30, If you get off before crossing 2 zone lines, tag as you exit to get a $0.30 credit. Tag on and off at MAX Platforms. Allow transfers for 2 hours, note if you cross that 3rd zone, the card will know and will recharge the $0.30, OR, no transfers at all, charge $2 per boarding until you hit the $4.50 day pass amount, and have it max out. You can also load monthly passes onto this card, and not worry about transfers. One thing the card would help on with monthly passes, Upgrades! If you buy a 1-2 zone pass often, but only ride 3 zones occasionally, as long as you have an ecash balance, the card can charge the upgrade of $0.30 charge for the one trip on the Bus AND MAX (Currently you can not buy an upgrade for MAX from a vending machine). IF you have no ecash on the card, the vending machines will let you add value, and the value never expires. The Fare inspectors card readers would tell them where the passenger boarded, non tagged cards are as good as having no ticket at all. The readers only tell them where it was tagged last, what pass you have or if its expired. You can add passes or ecash online, by calling in, visiting a customer service office, or at vending machines. Makes boarding faster and easier as well. It would help trimet better gather figures of where people are boarding and alighting. Best of all, if you lose the card, or it gets stolen, a simple phone call shuts it off and you get a new card with what you had on your lost card. In the end, i think the SmartCard system is a good idea for transit, many other systems have already adopted it, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Atlanta, Wash DC, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Miami, Minneapolis, just to name a few. Time to get onboard TriMet!


Matt Morgan said...

I wholeheartedly agree! While Trimet was already ahead of the curve on other tech related matters (transit tracker, google maps integration etc.) they need to play catch up now with a Smartcard system. No more fumbling for cash/coins. Faster boarding by just tapping or swiping card. It'd also be nice if you could top up your card via a website, that way you wouldn't necessarily have to reload your card via a kiosk...I'm sure it'd ultimately be simpler for the operators, too!

punkrawker4783 said...

Hi Matt, I have 2 SmartCards, TransLink for the Bay Area, and an ORCA Card for Seattle. Both allow you to top up online, and check your transactions (where you have been). You can also have auto-reload. You set a limit, for example $10, and tell it to top up $20 when you fall below your limit amount automatically from a credit or debit card of your choosing. You can also auto-load your monthly pass. I only put the kiosk in there so cash paying customers still can use the card system. Thanks for reading! =)