Port Authority ConnectCard is now available (free) without a pass

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Steven
Participant
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The card was supposed to be used by multiple regional transit agencies, hence the generic messages.

But as far as I know, PAT is the only one using it so far. Westmoreland County Transit just got all new fareboxes (not turned on yet though), and they don’t appear to have any provision for ConnectCards. Maybe one of the others in the area has plans for it.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Turns out my wife’s pass was fine after having not been used since October, so at least it’s not six months to invalidation.

Much as I feel that automatic invalidation is a stupid idea, I can kinda see their point. Simple solution: Ride a bus every once in a while!

Also, to Steven’s point, I believe the plan is for all area transit agencies to use the same system, though it may look differently in other systems. Pitt and CMU ID cards are essentially ConnectCards, with other, university-specific information encoded on the embedded chip.


Benzo
Participant
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I just can’t wait for the website. I may break down and buy a connect card with $10 or so at giant eagle so I have something for now and then see if I can get them to transfer my balance from my old card (which was registered for balance protection) to my new one.

I have no clue when I’ll actually get downtown to do it since the port authority service center hours totally suck, it’s kind of not even worth it to take off early from work to make it downtown in time recover my $5 or $10 balance.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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It’s irritating that they can’t do that over the phone, particularly for a registered card.


reddan
Keymaster
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Speaking from ignorance (and an inability to locate the info on PAT’s webpage): do the tickets that you can purchase in a ten-ticket trip book expire?

If not, then the ConnectCard is a significant step backwards, at least in one respect. (Not to say that there aren’t plenty of benefits that outweigh this sole detriment, but it does call into question the need for PAT to force expiration of electronic tickets, when the paper tickets cause them to carry the same financial liability of “there are X dollars worth of prepaid fares in the wild which we must honor”.)


Mikhail
Member
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They (paper) do expire. I have a partially used ticket book I bought in 2007 or 2008 just to have them if my daughter needs them (at the time she used T from time to time and before she became a PSU student). In 2011 they refused to accept them motivating that fare raised a couple of times and I did not find a way to get cash back.


reddan
Keymaster
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Thanks for the info, Mikhail. Good to know.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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They expire when fares change.


Marko82
Participant
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I wonder if these cards would be treated the same as gift cards by the PA Attorney General. If so, PAT must report unused funds and make recovery possible. http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/consumers.aspx?id=280


Pierce
Participant
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I don’t think the liability issue warrants cancelling the value of the cards. Are people using prepaid cards from a year ago going to cripple the system? Assuming the Port Authority raises rates along with inflation, they shouldn’t stand to lose anything


reddan
Keymaster
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@Pierce: I agree, but suspect they’re trying to keep the bits in the database from getting frozen in place if they’re stationary for too long. ;-)


jeg
Participant
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Well, I got to the airport, found the ConnectCard machine and (as I feared) it said the card was inactive, there was no way to re-activate or add money, and the customer service hours were already over. Great. It also said the card was last used on May 9th 2014, which is false. I suspect it was actually last used on that date in 2013.

Good thing I had a ride. Will call Port Authority tomorrow. :/


J Z
Participant
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Here’s PAT’s answer.

“Thank you for contacting Port Authority.We apologize for the inconvenience. When the year is almost up take your card to the Service Center at 534 Smithfield St, Pgh, PA 15222. Your funds will be transferred to a new connect card.

Thank you for taking the time to write, Port Authority appreciates it and takes all comments into consideration.”

Doesn’t particularly seem responsive to my question, seeing as I haven’t seen any means to assess “when the year is almost up” via either the kiosk, the service center rep I asked on Smithfield, or online. That said, I used it the other day and had no issues.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Regardless of the reasoning behind invalidating inactive cards, I still think it’s wrong. @jeg‘s case is a perfect example. You head overseas for a year, you fly back to Pittsburgh late at night, there is still one 28X you could catch (assume there is, for this discussion), you know you still had sufficient funds on the card, you expect that it Should Just Work.

At the very least, make it possible to re-activate the card at a kiosk.

The alternatives are a $50 taxi ride (a guess, anyone want to correct that?), dragging a friend or relative out of bed to drive to the airport to rescue you, or jettisoning altogether the idea of using transit in the first place because the system is not reliable.


jeg
Participant
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Took me a trip to Giant Eagle, 2 trips to the downtown service center, talking to 3 customer service people who could not help me, and finally calling and seeing a manager to get my $17.50 transferred to a new card. If I hadn’t been on vacation and visiting people/doing stuff downtown already, this would have been a huge pain and I would have spent more than half of that just getting there…

They claimed my particular card wasn’t in the system at all, so could only be re-activated by a manager, all of whom had conveniently gone home by 4 pm the first day I was there. Since I got the card at a Giant Eagle soon after they began offering them with cash balances, this could have legitimately been due to an error made at purchase.

Of course, I’m not a typical customer (will probably be in Pittsburgh for ~2 weeks a year for the next few years), but after this experience I don’t think it’s worth keeping a ConnectCard just for emergencies if you don’t regularly ride the bus. Just keep up with fare changes and have exact change set aside for this case. I’ll be giving mine (2 of them, since two people can’t use the same card under any circumstances) to local friends and buying a new one or using cash next time I’m in town.

Also, they really should sell ConnectCards at the airport!


Marko82
Participant
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^”since two people can’t use the same card under any circumstances”

What? That is the most stupidest thing I’ve heard about these cards.


Mikhail
Member
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You cannot use it to pay for two or more people at the same ride. But you can ride, pay, and give it to another person to ride, pay, and give it…


salty
Participant
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I think one reason two people can’t use the same card is to prevent accidental double-charging. They’re also supposedly working on automatic transfers which would get messy with multiple people involved. So, there are reasons for it – although it would be cool if there was some way to override it.

As far as getting “stranded”, take a $20 bill (or $5 or whatever) and stick it in some corner of your wallet for emergencies. You can likely find someone to make change for you, and I’ve had the driver let me ride for free before in a pinch. It probably helps if you’re nice to the driver and avoid going on a big “PAT sucks” rant and stuff.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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If you want to ride for free, your best bet is to just carry a $2 bill and a 50-cent piece on board (and nothing else), and try to feed the farebox with it. It will accept neither, but drivers usually are easier on people who actually have the fare on them and actively do try to pay.


jeg
Participant
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Yeah, I should have clarified “for the same ride.”

And I must say, although the experience was frustrating, everyone with whom I spoke was friendly and tried to be helpful.

@stuinmccandless LOL!


JaySherman5000
Member
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In addition to not allowing a ConnectCard to be used for more than one person on the same ride, they also forbid subtracting partial fares. I got a flat one night and had my trusty Card with me, but it only had a balance of $1.50. Since I had $1 in my pocket I thought I could apply the card balance and then use cash. The fare box would not accept the transaction that way, nor would it accept putting the cash in first and then tapping my card to pay the difference. Luckily, I was able to dig out more cash from my bag, but it was a pain in the ass.

The ConnectCard seems like a great concept at first, but the execution has been far less than ideal.


J Z
Participant
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RustyRed
Member
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“Port Authority to accept online payments for ConnectCards”

Awesome, I frequently need to check my balance BEFORE I get to a station as I sometimes don’t have enough on the card for a single trip. Thankfully, T stations have kiosks, but someday I’m going to be a a bus stop where that isn’t a luxury.


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Nice to see this is happening, but it was in process in February 2008. The cards themselves have been in the general public’s hands since February 2012. The glacial pace of progress is just maddening.


Mikhail
Member
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Fareboxes on buses and railcars will download online purchase information while at the garage, so a purchase made late at night after the download won’t be recognized at the farebox the next day, authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said. Likewise, a purchase at mid-morning might not be recognized until the vehicle returns to the garage. A weekly pass purchased on Monday morning might not work until Tuesday.

It sounds like BS since you can add cash value at “vending machine” and suddenly it available at any bus and T without those to go to a garage. So those vending machines and buses/T-cars communicate with each other. What prevents communication of office computer and the same buses/T-cars?


StuInMcCandless
Participant
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Those of us who work in software know that distributing updates over a network is a solvable problem, one that has been solved for a long, long time. Structurally, this is no different from a corporate virus detection server which checks for updates every 15 minutes, and pushes that update to every PC in the company in a matter of a few minutes, including the laptops scattered hither and yon over WiFi connections on the company VPN. Why this isn’t already part of the radio system (that they had to replace in 2012), I do not know.


Steven
Participant
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So those vending machines and buses/T-cars communicate with each other. What prevents communication of office computer and the same buses/T-cars?

I’m guessing the vending machine info gets to the farebox by means of the card. When you have to tap your card again, after putting money on it, the vending machine records your new purchase, and later the farebox reads your purchase off the card. That suggests the farebox has no real-time communication at all. It only knows what it downloaded at the garage that morning, and what it sees on the cards.

I can see some sense in wanting to keep money-related data off radio. You have to worry more about the system getting hacked, if anyone in radio range can do it remotely.


Benzo
Participant
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Security through absurdity. I mean obscurity.


jonawebb
Participant
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@benzo, I don’t think it’s absurd. The vending machine verifies that the funds transfer has taken place and writes the card. It also has to communicate the update back to the server but that doesn’t have to happen in real-time, just say daily so that if the card is lost and was registered the balance can be recovered.
From the web, the transaction can be verified, but it has to be sent to all buses for the card to work. They probably don’t have a city-wide network for updating the fare collection machines — they probably just communicate with them at the garages. So the fare update from the web can’t happen until the bus has been at a garage.


Benzo
Participant
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I’m actually pretty fine how the cards will work when this website is implemented. I’m surprised it took them so long to get this launched.

I guess I’m still sore that I got one of the first batches of connect cards that deactivated itself despite using it and having funds on it, and not wanting to leave work early to go down to the service center downtown to get a new card.


Mikhail
Member
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I doubt that card holds it. It would violate a lot security principles. Plus vending machines accept credit cards and bank do not have any info on strips (by the same security principles). If vending machine does not wait until bank transaction is written then I would become reach really fast with my expired credit card (I would specifically buy non registered connect card and load them with money from my expired card). So vending machines do have connection to an internet (probably not the Internet, but I would doubt it again). I think (I’ll try to check it at work) Connect Card is a regular RFID card.


jonawebb
Participant
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@mikhail, not to belabor the point, but it’s not a question of whether the vending machine is connected to the network; it’s a question of whether the design can assume a 100% reliable network connection to the fare terminals on the bus. If not, the card has to hold value.


jonawebb
Participant
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BTW I added some money to my Connect Card using the website (which, BTW, is a really horrible IT design). It DID NOT WORK at first. I used my card the next day and the reader said my card was Expired (not zero funds — expired. I’d had a positive balance before adding more funds). Then a few days later everything was OK, card read, balance OK, etc.
So I would be cautious about using the site. Maybe carry some cash in case the card doesn’t work at first and you have to pay.


chrishent
Member
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Regarding the new online account management feature, note that if you had registered your ConnectCard for balance protection prior to the new online system being available, you’ll have to call the customer service line so they can set up the online account for you. It’s mentioned on the website, but impatient souls might not read that far.

This is silly but it doesn’t take long to do, though I suppose this will cause registered card users to complain that the website “doesn’t work” when they try to create their online account. Also, as Jon said, the IT design is not very good. Baby steps, I guess


Benzo
Participant
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Maybe allegheny county needs to get their own I&P department going, to help dig themselves out of the dark ages of technology.


chrishent
Member
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FYI, the Port Authority recently launched a website for collecting user input on their services:

http://wheretonext.portauthority.org/

Once you register, you can submit ideas and can also answer questions regarding their current fare structure under the “Discussions” tab. The website, of course, is a work in progress


Pierce
Participant
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Kind of reminds me of the BikePGH website

@benzo

No money for I&P, willing to bet 95% chance it was just dumped on already swamped IT department :)


Pierce
Participant
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Would be awesome if the bus was an animated gif where the marquee switched


J Z
Participant
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“Tell Port Authority what you think about fare collection and how it can be better. We all have ideas, and they want to hear them. Port Authority hopes to make formal recommendations to their Board over the winter.”

http://www.pcrg.org/tell-port-authority-how-you-want-to-pay-for-transit/


DoubleStraps
Member
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Sorry to bump an old thread, but I didn’t know where else to ask this:

My ConnectCard stopped working in the last couple months. Every time I tapped it, I got a “TRANSACTION NOT OKAY” message. I would have to wait for it to reload, then tap again, and I would be fine. Today, I spent half an hour waiting in line to get a replacement ConnectCard, which I was planning on using on the bus home today, and tomorrow as well. When handing me my shiny new ConnectCard, the guy at the Port Authority window told me that I had to register my card.

So, I get back to my office and look up how to register my card. The Port Authority website tells me that I have to call (412) 442-2000 to register my card. Okay! So I do.

First problem: the menu tree that you go through when you call that number does not include a prompt for “register your ConnectCard.” Seems kinda poorly thought out, but whatever. I get a hold of a customer service rep and tell him that I’m calling to register my card. Second problem: I’m told that “You have to wait 24 hours to register a card.”

That… can’t possibly be right, right? I can’t use my new ConnectCard right away, I have to wait 24 hours? That’s kinda terrible, no?

To bring this back to bikes: my plan on days that I did not bus/bike in was to drive to a cheaper downtown lot and then use the free 15-minute bike ride to reach my destination. That will be very cool.

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