Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

In Chicago, a sophisticated new rail fare system that doesn’t work

with 2 comments

I was just going to tweet this story, but sometimes that limited number of characters just will not do.

The story can be found on Marketplace – not the CBC tv programme of the same name. This one is on National Public Radio.

The parallels to Translink’s Compass fare card are eerily similar. For start the contractor is the same one – Cubic. Marketplace also compares the system to Obamacare – where the web page to sign up for the new health care system was rushed into use long before it was ready for prime time. That seems to be the case in Chicago too.  And, as here, the union is worried about how its members get the brunt of the passengers – sorry customers – complaints.

Last week, the transit union head demanded that the CTA hold off on the transition, until the kinks got worked out. He said his members were already getting cussed out by enough angry riders.

Are there lessons to be learned here or is the process here too far advanced? What does seem to be different is the management of the issue. The CTA is apologizing – and it is not paying Cubic until the system is actually working properly. And the old system is staying in place until it does. Translink has acknowledged that the beta testing showed up some issues – and others – like the pay cash as well as buy a ticket “solution” for the lack of swipe reader on the gates problem – are simply ignored. The user is simply told to get with the program.

I think our real problem was that gates on SkyTrain/Canada Line/SeaBus were never actually necessary – but Translink staff have been eager to get away from 3 zones to pay by distance and added smart cards to what was already a seriously flawed concept. There are ways to introduce new fare media and systems that are both graceful and flexible. Chicago learned the hard way why those qualities should not be ignored. Will Translink learn the same lesson the same way?

One very odd feature about the story – the headline identifies Ventra as a “new rail fare system” but the story is illustrated by a picture of a bus.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

2 Responses

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  1. I wouldn’t call a chip-card sophisticated…after all they go back to the 1980s..they are also used in quite a lot of applications, including transit.
    I tried to find if Parisians had troubles with their monthly Navigo pass…

    French people study philosophy in high school, so of course one Navigo user went the whole hog in a rant, complaining that he shouldn’t have to validate his card every time, as he has a yearly one…I read the whole thing…Looks like his pass, if not his brain (assaulted by PA asking passengers to validate the card) works just fine.

    Next set of complaints was from a woman that found, in boarding a bus, that she had forgotten to move her pass from one bag to another and had no change for a ticket…sure enough she was fined but told that the fine would be cancelled if she showed her pass at such and such place. It cost her 5 Euros–the price of 1 1/2 cafe–so she was incensed…
    One week or 2 later she lost her pass…on and on…
    Couldn’t find any complainants about Bordeaux pass???

    Cubic coast along on the pearl that the Oyster card is, but they weren’t the only one involved. The card itself was made by Gemalto…one of the world leader in that area.

    Paris’ Navigo, incidentally, was created in-house by the RATP (Paris transit operator) and the SNCF (French railways), with the help of Roland Moreno, one of the–if not THE–father of the card with a chip. It took years to develop and try Navigo (it went in service in 2001).

    I am willing to trust Cubic…however they can only program the cards based on TransLink needs and wishes and I am not sure that TransLink brains have bothered to check with towns that have already used transit smart cards for years.
    I already foresee bottlenecks if they make all the passengers “tap” by the driver, instead of using all the doors. Not to mention at the gates, with the hordes going through the gates from opposite directions..

    Before the tram system (LRT) went in service in late 2003, Bordeaux had, on the major lines, big buses with 2 trailers. Yes 2!.

    They had ticket validators by all the doors and anyone with a ticket HAD to use anyone of the back doors. . Whenever I took these buses, during yearly holidays, I noticed that passengers that couldn’t come close to a validator would, after the bus left the stop, pass their ticket to someone who passed it to another person etc. The validated ticket was eventually handed back to the “owner”…
    Yet Bordelais have the reputation of being cold and reserved…

    Red frog

    November 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm

  2. A Lama reminds Bordeaux transit user to validate their card when entering a vehicle

    Red frog

    November 18, 2013 at 11:31 am

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