Home Asides Moving toward open fare payment systems

Moving toward open fare payment systems

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA prepares the long slow phase-out of the ubiquitous MetroCard and the shift to an open fare payment system based, in part, on credit card technology, it isn’t alone in the effort, and today, we have two pieces from around the nation for fare-payment perusal. The first development comes from Chicago where the Illinois governor recently signed legislation mandating Metra, CTA and Pace to develop a unitary fare card by 2015. The idea is similar to that in New York as the three agencies are going to move toward a debit/credit open payment system with a goal toward eliminating some conductors and speeding up the boarding process. It will also unite the three agencies for the first time in Chicago history.

Down in D.C., Greater Greater Washington is using the WMATA’s announcement of an electronics payment program to review the history of fare collection in our nation’s capital. The first installment explores why transit agencies should look to their peers for fare collection technologies, why single-vendor systems can lead to escalating costs and what the future of fare payment systems might resemble in the coming years. The WMATA says it will begin a new fare pilot program by 2013. The MTA, which recently completed a contactless pilot, is still moving forward with its plan to replace the MetroCard by, well, soon.

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Bolwerk July 8, 2011 - 4:03 pm

Every major agency in the country should be working together on a common, non-proprietary standard.

pete July 8, 2011 - 5:43 pm

I suggest a barcode on the forehead with the numbers 666.

More seriously, for “safety” and “terrorism”, will the next generation NYCT farecards have to be tied to a government photo ID? I can see Visa or Mastercard winning the farecard contract, and of course, all farecards will be tied to a SSN or passport by law.

Alon Levy July 10, 2011 - 11:20 pm

Only if it’s run by American or British paranoids. In Singapore, hardly a civil libertarian haven, CashCards and EZLinks are anonymous electronic money, to the point that thieves have taken to breaking into cars and stealing their CashCards. In Japan, another country that Americans love to look down on for having no freedom, Suica and PASMO and the rest are all anonymous.

Andrew July 8, 2011 - 7:59 pm

That standard is the same standard used at supermarkets, drug stores, and restaurants across your country. There’s a pretty good chance your credit card already has it.

At least that’s the standard that will be in use in New York. Chicago and DC don’t seem to looking in the same direction. A shame, since it can reduce costs to the agency AND is easier for the rider.

Alon Levy July 11, 2011 - 3:23 pm

There already exist open payment standards. Why reinvent the wheel, other than that it provides extra employment for MTA planners?

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:40 pm

Nobody’s reinventing the wheel. I used my smartcard to buy dinner tonight. I’ll be using the same smartcard to ride the subway in a few years.

The hard part is in wiring the subway system, equipping buses, etc. For that purpose it makes no difference which standard is selected.

The advantage to using the same standard that normal credit cards use is that riders won’t have to use their credit cards to buy special transit-only cards before they can get on the train – they’ll be able to use their credit cards directly. That also means that the MTA won’t need many vending machines, since most riders won’t need to have anything vended to them.

Octopus was a great innovation in 1997, but now that smartcard-equipped credit cards are widespread, there’s no reason to go the Octopus route.

Anon256 July 15, 2011 - 7:39 am

The restaurant where you buy dinner doesn’t require the implementation of even basic Metrocard features like multi-ride bonuses, bus transfers or monthly passes, much less potential new features like loading different sorts of passes on the same card, off-peak discounts, or automatic fare “capping”, all of which are standard on other transit smartcards. These require a whole new software system to be implemented on top of the credit card system, and might prevent the use of off-the-shelf hardware too.

Restaurants and most other merchants can also tolerate much, much higher latency/transaction time than is acceptable for transit applications.

Andrew July 17, 2011 - 9:54 pm

Those are all software issues, completely independent of which smartcard standard is selected.

Testing transaction time was presumably one of the purposes of last year’s pilot.

BoerumHillScott July 8, 2011 - 4:14 pm

I’ve read the MTA’s proposal/guidelines, and I’m not convinced it will work well.
The assumption that you always have close to instantaneous network access seems to be unrealistic for buses.

They have backup plans to deal with times when network access is not available, but they seem like kludges that will lead to inconsistent behavior from the customer’s perspective.

Alon Levy July 10, 2011 - 11:21 pm

EZLink works fine in Singapore. I don’t know if PayPass has the same capability for that as FeliCa, but I’m pretty sure it does. That is not the problem of the MTA’s kickback strategy; the complete ignorance of how Octopus and Suica work is.

Terratalk July 8, 2011 - 7:42 pm

Benjamin: I can’t reach you on your “contact me” page. I have several questions I would like to ask you. Thanx! Terra

Phil July 9, 2011 - 12:27 am

I’m still baffled as to why we can’t just implement a Tri-State Area Oyster/SmarTrip type system. Unitary fare integration doesn’t have to be through some sort of credit card standard. In fact, this is not the way most systems work, instead preferring customisable RFID closed systems. How would the proposed system work for unlimited MetroCards? What about customers without credit cards, especially those under 18? What about the possibilities of fraud? I’m all for change and would love to see Walder bring an Oyster-type fare collection method to NYC, but realistically what’s proposed here doesn’t seem to make sense.

pete July 9, 2011 - 12:51 pm

Dont you understand, that each transit system wants its own system, so that the contractors will give kickbacks to the procurement employees of that specific transit system. When a transit agency is “forced” to hire a contractor by outside forces (common fare system) it can’t collect bribes, graft, and kickbacks from the contractor, or it can’t directly see the contractor, only the quasi-governmental authority that manages the system. Buy NY laws are one of guaranteeing only a small group or exactly 1 contractor will bid. If the MTA can’t merge LIRR and MNCR, how would it get other cooperation? (note, it did merge NYCT Bus and MTA Bus management wise)

Then again, Bee Line and PA use MetroCard, so there is hope. The biggest problem is, MetroCard is owned by Cubic Corp, and they sure as hell dont want to give up the Golden Goose. AFAIK, every MVM technician, always accompanied by an armed guard, is a Cubic employee, not MTA.

Pete July 11, 2011 - 11:01 am

Actually all MVM technicians are TA employees as are the armed guards but Cubic holds the TA hostage for parts and software updates and I hear they send nice Christmas gifts to Procurement.

Andrew July 13, 2011 - 10:44 pm

Just the opposite – the NYC region is moving towards an open credit card-based system. MetroCard is history.

Alon Levy July 10, 2011 - 11:23 pm

Actually, the systems that have done fare integration the best don’t even have smartcards – they have paper tickets. The best practice for smartcards is located in areas where one card works for all local transit systems, but you have to pay an extra fare every time you cross agency boundaries.


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