Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘smart cards

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

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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

Transport smartcard hacked – again

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It was the “again” that caught my attention. This is DutchNews reporting on trials of a new smart card that is supposed to replace existing tickets for all trains trams and buses across the country. The Dutch have had “strippenkarte” for long while which brings the sort of fare integration that Canadian cities only dream of. Twenty years ago Ontario tried to get a card that worked for GO and the TTC – and it is still not as easy to use as the Dutch system of paper tickets.

GO TTC Twin Pass

Smart cards have been talked about here for a long time, but our system is just too small to be able to afford the upfront investment, and nothing commercially available off the shelf could cope with our three zones, but only one off peak structure. Indeed, much discussion was having cards that would be read in and out to allow for fare by distance, which in a region this big actually makes a lot of sense if (and that’s a very big if indeed) the cost of short trips could be cut. And if stored value were used, the system can also be extended to other small purchases, reducing the need to carry coins and small bills.

But what this story shows is how the database of trip making is vulnerable. I suspect as well that as soon as electronic fare cards come into widespread use someone will devise a way to hack into the system to get free rides – or even money out.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 15, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

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