PAT gets smartcards for fares
apologies if this is old news, but this for some reason is super exciting to me:
I think I first used something like this in California or South Korea or something ages ago and wondered when we’d catch up. Well, right now.
Finally some PAT changes that will make riders’ lives easier (and may boost ridership).
Funny how far behind some places are. In Minnesota and California they’ve used these things as long as I can remember. Baltimore is all automated too.
I flew to Philadelphia a few months ago and I had to find an ATM (which was nowhere near the light rail) so I could pay the cash fare on the SEPTA light rail from the airport… They have live conductors that walk the light rail cars to take your cash fare, provide you change from a giant roll of money they had crammed into their pockets, and use a paper punch to punch a duplicate paper ticket maybe a dozen times to indicate your origin, destination, date, fare, etc. All the little punched squares looked like confetti on the floor of the train. Talk about archaic.
I did think about giving up and just taking a cab.
I am really hoping this allows them to better target passes, deals, etc. The current paper ticket system is crazy, since it is worth practically the same as regular cash, and you don’t really get a discount.
I would wonder if companies could go so far as to get ‘branded’ passes that get you discounts. BikePGH anyone? Meh, more dreams…
I hope this allows them to provide transfers electronically. Taking a bus to another bus, then doing the same thing to get home gets very expensive.
I got this Google phone with a smart card reader/transmitter in it. It would be cool if there was an “app for that.” Then I could just wave my phone over that thing. Hmmm… Maybe PAT would pay me to program it. :thinking cap is on:
humblesage – that sounds like it would be really easy to create, maybe PAT could team up with an enterprising young programmer from one of the universities. If I knew PAT people or students any more I’d totally try to hook that up. Stu?
The agreement with PITT (and CMU?) is a pilot for a much wider program that is envisioned for the region. You’ve all seen the new “smart” fareboxes that have been being installed over the past 12 months or so. We’ll all be using smart passes, or have the option to do so, very soon.
@dwillen – I find the Philly SEPTA fare punching process sort of quaint. (And I usually hate quaint.) My question is always one of safety……how often do these conductors get jacked? They seem to carry a fair amount of cash. And, it is a little weird to me that everyone in the car or everyone passing my seat knows where I will be exiting the train. Just a personal safety concern when I am traveling from the airport after a delayed flight gets in really late or something.
All of that and more are coming. The pace is glacial. The project has been front-burner since 2007, and early studies at implementing it date to 1997. But it’s for real, and I really do wish they’d bring the fare payment *policy* into the 21st century sooner rather than later.
Bottom line, though, the general public isn’t going to have these until 2012.
If you’ve ever wondered why I am so often frustrated, it’s because a lot of what’s blatantly obviously needed was suggested by me in the mid-1990s. THIS is where those budget cuts hurt the most, not in cutting buses on the streets, but in not keeping people who are assigned to big projects, websites, software, etc. They’re always the first to go.
Stu, that’s one of the reasons I think they should make use of the incredibly brilliant, energetic young minds looking for summer work or part time work at our local universities. They’re cheap, they’re eager, they’re capable, and involving them in something that the community would benefit from would make everybody happy. Could even help keep young talent here.
Coordination could be handled by some administrators, perhaps even mostly at the universities. It *could* be cheap AND smart.
Right now it takes 15 years to half-implement something. In the mean time, 15 summer students could have planned out some portion of it, figured out implementation, other innovations, etc. Even if they don’t produce usable material, they’ll learn from it and the program can retain their work to help the next student.
Seriously, this is the kind of real world experience that students climb all over each other trying to get. Why not?
stop trying to use proactive, logical thinking when dealing with entrenched bureaucracies. they don’t respond to such tactics!
seriously, when I was in college, I would have done it for college credit… Screw it, I would have done it for pizza. Heck, hold a competition with a $250 prize and you’ll get scads of free work done.
If they are scared and want better structure, I bet a professor would run a late 400 series cross-discipline class to address whatever issue. That’s how Access was created. That’s how Big Wheels were invented. Some professors are LOOKING for things like this.
The key to forward movement is just giving the right people the right ideas and motivation to do it. Using cheap/free student labor to bring projects to “shovel ready” status just makes sense in an industry that relies on sporadic and unreliable funding. And involving the students in the community at large is just good policy.
HEY just got another idea… why couldn’t BPGH work with the civil engineering departments (maybe public policy ones too) and the city to help with the cycling/pedestrian infrastructure and planning and implementation and all that jazz?
If there’s only one full time engineer at the city to work on this (my potentially incorrect memory of a thread earlier), then that person needs minions. Again, students will work with ardor for pizza. (Often literally).
I recognize there’s engineering stamping issues and legal issues, but that’s true of all student or subcontracted projects and doesn’t necessarily have to be speed bumps. Stats students could run studies. Law students could do law things.
Why on earth not?
I find the Philly SEPTA fare punching process sort of quaint.
I find it terribly inefficient and annoying. If you’re getting off a plane, you don’t expect the rail travel to be cash only. Is there anywhere else in the world where this is the case? If there is some technical limitation, fine, but just stick a damn ATM right there on the transit platform, not half way across the airport. Someone told me they actually had fare machines on the platform at one point, but removed them. Additional point of annoyance, it costs MORE to buy your ticket from the conductor, versus at any other station. You just don’t have no choice at the airport — conductor is your only choice. I think its just another way to screw out of towners, personally.
I’m surprised PAT doesn’t use tokens. Neanderthal-ass system.
I’m surprised PAT doesn’t still give out their customer service number as GIlroy2-2000.
Well, about two days out of five, they tweet the 442-2000 number without the area code. Ten-digit dialing was enforced in July 2001.
About 1/4 of the bus stop signs still show the old 231-5707 Customer Service number, which ceased to operate in 1992.
Only VERY recently — a year ago? two? — the two inclines stopped using tokens.
They were still using a 1978 VAX 11/780 for their scheduling system as late as 1995.
@ejwme – I suggested the grad student idea in 1992. In 1996 I became one of those grad students myself, and worked with a group of students on a system briefly, but the system they came up with really didn’t work. From that, though, I came up with over 40 ideas that I thought PAT should implement, and presented it to them in June 2002. They’ve used maybe 10 of them in the years since.
In January 2002 I made the specific suggestion ejwme mentioned, of having students develop software for them on the cheap. The idea went nowhere.
I’ve been beating my head against the wall on transit stuff since well prior to 1994. Some of this intransigence is PAT’s fault, some of it is not. It’s the American culture of not taking transit seriously, and the Pittsburgh culture of thinking the buses are simply somewhat updated versions of 1939 PCC trolley cars.
But mainly I fault the anti-transit legislators and other power brokers who have worked tirelessly to tear down and obstruct any real progress in making transit viable in this town. This is on-topic for cycling because to a great extent it’s the same people for the same reasons who are against cycling as a viable form of transportation.
I’ve had a SmarTrip card for D.C.’s WMATA for five years now, and it seems to work fine on the occasional trips I make there. They charge upfront $5 for the card and offer $0.10 discounts for using it rather than paper farecards or cash. There is some occasional controversy about switching to an all-SmarTrip system (or increasing the penalty/discount) with respect to people who are really broke and can’t afford to have more than a few dollars on the card at a time.
But there is some long-term vision there to move to the next phase, with an open payment system, so that transit networks are not all proprietary and impossible to coordinate. Today’s Greater Greater Washington had a blog post on just this issue: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/11422/open-payment-open-standards-are-in-wmatas-future/
I am really looking forward to this. Would I be able to use it twice for a guest and myself?
Can’t use the smart card twice on the same bus, but Person #2 can get a day pass, good for unlimited rides on any given day. Many systems have a day pass priced at about 3x a regular ride, so $6 or $7. Perfect for that one day when you have a friend in town and decide to chase all over.
We should have had that years ago. In fact, we did have it on weekends until the 2002 fare hike.
I agree, this will be great. AFAIK it’s just a “stored value” card so you should be able to swipe multiple times.
FWIW, I’ve started buying tickets from Giant Eagle and stashing them various places (wallet, bike bag, etc) so at least when I decide I want to take a bus I don’t have to worry about whether I have $2.25 on me. But, the card will still be better, especially if you can fill it up online.
salty – I used to do that in school, my mom would buy a book of those paper tix and keep on hand. She correctly didn’t trust that I’d use the cash to ride the bus, I’d instead leave home half an hour early and do the hour walk to school use the cash for nefarious things like chocolate or really snazzy graph paper.
hunh… would this make it easier for an employer to do a ‘mass transit’ perk – like they could issue a card with X amount on it for commuting each month and you could load more if you wanted to use it otherwise? That way it would be crystal clear exactly what the company was paying for and the person is using. Companies do something similar in Japan, it always seemed like such a nice perk (of course some companies go the extra mile and do the unlimited monthly or whatever).
My employer offers a monthly bus pass to employees… but I felt guilty taking it because I don’t ride the bus much, and especially since we moved I don’t ride it to work at all (at CMU the 67 was almost literally door to door for me, so I rode it a few times, but biking was way faster)
could issue a card with X amount on it for commuting each month and you could load more if you wanted to use it otherwise?
Currently, the price for a monthly pass is set so it’s a little cheaper to get one if you commute every day. So for most employees it would be better to just get them a monthly pass. Providing a specific dollar amount could work for employees who only commute a few days a week. (I guess an employer could do this now by buying tickets for the employee.)
use the cash for nefarious things like chocolate or really snazzy graph paper.
Your mother was right to be concerned. It’s a proven fact that kids with snazzy graph paper are usually plotting something.
yeah, us math geeks were up to no good, but it was rarely a coordinated effort.
Topping this old thread. You may now purchase monthly passes with the plastic ConnectCard. You have to ask for the plastic one, or they’ll just give you the usual paper one. And I think you can only do this at the downtown Service Center.
Once it’s yours, it’s yours, and you can add fare to it at one of the several dozen Transit Vending Machines (TVMs) installed at T and Busway stations.
I’ve been using the plastic card since March, and the thing works pretty well. I have an annual fare encoded on mine, so in February I will need to cough up another $1,608.75, but it sure eliminates having to think about fare payment, ever.
You can also get a monthly pass on a ConnectCard at two Giant Eagles, in addition to downtown. I think eventually you’ll be able to buy one right from one of the vending machines, but right now they’re only good for refills.
I’ve been using a Zone 1 annual pass (with a cash balance on it for my 2-zone trips) for months now. It’s great not to have to bother with cash, but I wish the fare boxes were quicker at accepting a card after the previous customer deposits cash.
Anonymous 12/04/2012 at 3:52pm #
There’s a big part of me that wishes they had spent the money and effort on a traditional magnetic stripe farecard system that works like most other transit systems…you know…with turnstiles at train/incline stations. The amount of confusion I’ve witnessed caused by having the bus-style fare boxes on trains and the incline is inexcusable. I understand the need to deal with street-level ‘T’ stops, but for raised platform stations a more traditional system should be implemented.
I bring this up because I think the RFID card system may be an obstacle slowing the adoption of a more reasonable fare model due to the simple fact that the cards aren’t cheap. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expand this system to cover people who pay for one trip at a time when the cards themselves cost more than one or two dollars.
Sorry for the rant. I just hate seeing people stuck on the second car of the ‘T’ because they couldn’t understand the complex rules announced governing which doors open at which stops at what time of day. I’ve used many public transportation systems in many non-english speaking countries successfully simply because they adopted the typical fare card model. Even armed with English as my first language the PAT fare model is troubling.
Add to the rant above the percentage of un-helpful drivers who get irritated with people who ask perfectly simple and reasonable questions about stops, fares, whatever. Jerks. As if everyone is supposed to intuitively know everything about this goofy system.
Anonymous 12/04/2012 at 4:13pm #
Continuing the above rant…
I almost always bike everywhere so I didn’t really learn the weird bus rules here for quite some time. I remember getting on the bus and showing my student ID and having the bus driver yell at me for it, “you pay when you get off just like yesterday, the day before and every other day!” I wanted to explain that I don’t ever ride the bus, but I’m sure that would have done nothing.
And then the “pay when you get off” system is very problematic when the bus gets full and people are having to push their way to the front, which can be quite a challenge, then dig for change to pay.
I’m glad I have my bike… the buses here are annoying.
Anonymous 12/04/2012 at 4:17pm #
Pay when you get off is completely unenforceable as well. I’ve seen plenty of people get to their stop, then flip off the driver as they walk off without paying. What’s the driver going to do? Bring them back down town?
I’m not sure magnetic stripe technology would have much effect on the second-car issue. Most of the stops the second car doesn’t open at have no raised platform. Such passengers would still need to board the first car, no?
Granted, PAT could install a set of turnstiles at some of those high-platform stops that currently lack a fare booth. But they seem to take a lot of room (one normal turnstile, one special door-style one for wheelchairs, plus perhaps a second set for exiting passengers?). I think it would be tough to fit that into, say, Fallowfield. (I believe that and Overbrook Junction are the only two Red Line high platform stops that lack a fare booth but could potentially have a turnstile. The Blue Line has about 8 more.)
In any case, installing turnstiles at some additional stops, but by necessity, not most of them, would seem to simply increase the number of stops PAT would have to list under “You may use the second car if you’re exiting at one of these stops.” (BTW, there’s no time-of-day rule in deciding whether you can use the second car. You only have to know where you’re getting off.)
Google suggests some RFID cards go for $0.54 in quantity 5000 (custom-printed and ready to go), but I don’t know if that’s the kind of card PAT’s using. If it’s an issue, though, there could be a deposit on a card. Put a $10 bill in a machine and you get a card good for $9 in fares. Refill it and your next $10 bill is good for $10 in fares. Or use it up and put it back in the machine to get $1 back. (Though perhaps PAT could skip this, and an informal market would develop for used cards.)
I wish they had changed the fare policy about 10 years ago. It’s archaic.
But I think they made the right choice on the technology. The things are almost indestructible. I believe it’s the same technology as Atlanta’s MARTA or Chicago’s CTA.
It’s also going to be used region-wide here, with fare systems aligned so you can use the same farecard to go from here to Beaver to Greensburg to Uniontown, etc.
My own thoughts on fare policy are in this rather long blog post from early 2010:
In other ranty-ness, they spent a TON of money installing a new card machine at the Crafton stop of the W Busway. They had to saw-cut across the roadway and dig for new electrical, replace roadway, new concrete, etc. I bet they spent $50 or $60K installing that thing. At the same time they were heading for the operating budget cliff.
OK, now for the passengers; If you’re standing there for 15 or 20 minutes waiting for a bus, you know it’s going to be $2.50 (or whatever) every time. HAVE YOUR MONEY DUG OUT OF YOUR POCKET OR PURSE BEFORE THE BUS COMES. Thanks.
Anonymous 12/04/2012 at 6:08pm #
I know the CTA still uses magnetic stripe cards for per-trip purchases (as of a few weeks ago at least), but I would expect RFID to be used for passes. A system that utilizes both technologies is ideal, but I haven’t seen any mag-stripe infrastructure being deployed along side the RFID infrastructure here…which is why I think PAT is missing a good opportunity and may be making it harder to go cashless for infrequent riders.
@steven, no doubt the low-platform stops present a challenge. I have no idea how to fix that with two cars on the train. My biggest gripe is when the second car doesn’t open on high platform stations. If I recall correctly the policy is to only open the second car at high platform stations with a farebooth attendant. There are plenty of times where I’ve seen erratic staffing of the booths, causing the driver to not open the second car at a high platform station where there should have been an attendant at that time of day. This happened to me once on my normal commute. The attendant was missing from my stop, so he only pulled in enough to open the front door. We passed several high platform stations in the same manner until he found one that was staffed. Then I got to show my pass to get off that train, and again to get on the train in the opposite direction. If it had been a customer paying cash, I would have had to pay zone 2 fare twice to get to my home in zone 1 that day. Turnstiles limiting access to the station as a whole would solve the “missed my stop, have to turn around” issue without incurring additional charge as well.
$0.54 per card isn’t bad at all, and I’m sure they would be ordering in quantities greater than 5000 if they adopted them for per-trip transactions, but they’ll never be as cheap as paper with a mag-stripe.
I was at the Dormont T station on sunday. I had not idea what time it was. There were two digigal clocks, one said 3:42 and the other said 4:41. Where can complain about that?
It’s on-topic to the extent that it references how well PAT is able to deal with digital technology.
I bet they spent $50 or $60K installing that thing. At the same time they were heading for the operating budget cliff.
Of course, the installation costs were likely federally/state funded, and couldn’t have been used for the operating budget. “Investment” and all.
There are plenty of times where I’ve seen erratic staffing of the booths, causing the driver to not open the second car at a high platform station where there should have been an attendant at that time of day.
When I’ve encountered missing fare booth attendants, the operator just let people off the second car and asked them to walk up to the front of the train to pay their fares, or else just didn’t bother collecting fares from those passengers (the same way they sometimes let people off the back door of a packed bus).
Then I got to show my pass to get off that train, and again to get on the train in the opposite direction. If it had been a customer paying cash, I would have had to pay zone 2 fare twice to get to my home in zone 1 that day.
You passed an unstaffed fare booth on an outbound trip, then several high-platform stops with no ticket booth, and you wound up in zone 2? I’m having trouble understanding how that’s possible. Zone 2 begins at Washington Junction, so if the unstaffed fare booth had been north of there, you wouldn’t have been in zone 2 (since you could have switched at Washington Junction). There are just 4 high-platform stops south of there, at South Hills Village, Lytle, West Library, and Library, but no place where you could pass multiple high platform stops with no fare booths.
Maybe you’re misremembering the details, and you actually never went to zone 2? Wanted to get off at Memorial Hall, say, but had to stay on until Washington Junction, or wanted to get off at South Hills Junction but had to stay on till Memorial Hall? Or maybe there were missing fare booth attendants at a bunch of stops, and your driver skipped them all? Do you remember which stops were involved?
In any case, if some fare booths aren’t staffed, I think the fix is to instruct drivers to let people get off the second car regardless (and of course, to fix the staffing problem).
Mick: Complain about the broken clocks on PAT’s web site.
We had GPS on each bus at my undergrad
The sad part is the buses already have GPS, and are already sending back their positions to PAT. They merely have to set things up to make the info publicly available in some form. I think they’re waiting for a grant so they can build a nice interface, instead of just dumping the data on the web in some raw form now, and letting somebody else make it all nice.
Anonymous 12/04/2012 at 8:47pm #
Steven, after looking at the map, I was definitely still in zone 1, sorry to have misspoken. I only went 4-5 stops past South Hills Junction and they were all raised platform stops, sorry I can’t remember the name of the stop he finally opened the doors at. I reasoned that I had entered zone 2 based on how long we seemed to travel, which at the time felt like we went about 100 miles.
Prior to that episode and plenty of times after I’ve had drivers let out both cars without staff in the booth. Not great for business, but better for the customer for sure.
EDIT: wow, I had no idea so many surface-level stops still existed after the brown line was shut down. Looks like turnstile access may be a long ways off after all.
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