Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘smartcards

The Faregate Fraud

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Translink has just put out a news release touting the next phase of its combined Smartcard and Faregate program. Jeff Nagel called me about it – wanting a comment – and while I am waiting for him to call me back for a comment, I decided to put my thoughts on it in writing. It will be interesting to se how much of what i say makes it to the paper.

First off, Smart cards that passengers can preload are a very good idea. I used the Oyster card when I was in London last year, and was impressed with its ease of use. Though I did not appreciate having to wait in a very long line up at Victoria Station to buy one from the ticket office. I would have thought that this was the sort of transaction that could easily be done by a machine. I wanted two cards each loaded with enough value for three days unlimited travel in zone one only. The only real glitch – since recently fixed by a new agreement with the privatised national railway operators – was that it could not be used to take the most direct route back from Greenwich to Waterloo (we had gone out by river bus, and also used the card on that, but it just got us a discount not a ride).

Translink say that they are going to leave the present three zone (Monday to Friday until 1800) system in place. But also note that “new technology will have the flexibility to allow for new fare options and a greater variety of price incentives to reward customer loyalty and attract new people to transit”. Well you could do that now with the present system. You would just have to use the present cards’ mag stripe and have more people swipe than the present reliance on cards that are flashed at an operator – who usually pays no attention. Actually fare incentives simply get transit users to make more rides – and do very little to get people out of their cars. People who drive really are unconcerned about fares. So if spending this amount of money is thought to improve mode share – and those words never appear in Translink press releases – think again. But of course mode share increase should be the aim.

The claim is made that the cards will provide data – but the current system does that already. The data is largely ignored, simply because no-one has worked out a model to convert the swipes into rides. This is not too hard to develop if you have a good trip diary survey. Sadly Translink has never invested enough in asking basic questions about trip making: the sample we have at 0.4% is an order of magnitude less than that used by Toronto, for example.  Besides it has always been the practice at Translink to make up the ridership stats: much more fun and less work.

The real sticking point for me is the claim that gates make riders feel safer. They may do that, but riders will in fact be less safe. That is becuase once the gates go in there will much less need to have police patrolling the system and asking to look at tickets. This currently does not find many fare cheats but is valuable because it finds people with outstanding warrants and other offences. That won’t happen once the gates are there. (This issue is covered in earlier posts to this blog that you can find easily).

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2009 at 4:24 pm

City partners up for ‘smarter’ transit technology

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Ottawa Business Journal Staff

The City of Ottawa is joining with transit agencies in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to make smartcard technology a reality by 2010, the city said in a release Friday.

With Presto – a contactless, automated fare system developed with the Government of Ontario – the project will result in “significant savings” to the City of Ottawa, according to the release.

The need for such a payment system here featured strongly in the conversations at Transit camp last weekend. This story came out on Friday but did not make Google news alert until today.

One of the reasons that we do not have such a system here now is that none of the financial institutions has shown any interest in small denomination transactions, though Translink and its predecessors have been trying, several times, to get something going. The big banks just see no reason to get involved – it is far too easy for them to keep on making huge profits doing what they do now – basically charging their customers an arm and a leg for very little. They also lend out money at high rates that they have borrowed very cheaply – or even charged people for looking after.

Other larger cities with much greater mode share on transit have a bigger market – and this the people who make ticket machines all fall over themselves to try and sell them fare systems. Other merchants who deal in small amounts see cashless payment as a way to retain customer loyalty. There are a whole lot of store and gift cards out there – some reloadable, all driven at present by magnetic stripes. And the main reason stores like them is the amount of money people have to pay them up front, and the not insignificant sums that get left unspent.

North America is going to have to catch up with the rest of the world soon as most other advanced countries now have chip embedded cards. This is being driven mainly by the amounts lost to fraud. Again, Canadian banks have such a huge cash cushion they simply accept this as a cost of doing business. The money either goes to thieves or system vendors – and as long as the system vendors want more than the thieves are taking … But the big change comes from the use of devices that do not physically have to be inserted or swiped – or even touched. Proximity readers are the next big thing in technology and are already making progress in things like inventory control systems using tags and readers.

All this stuff is very enthralling for systems people and they burble on about “systems architectures” and data capture and similar stuff – and have been doing so for years, with very little to be seen as a result.

For transit systems ideally we need a system that protects our privacy – where we go and when is nobody’s business but our own – and can be reloaded easily. Cell phones and Paypal both seem to be acceptable in their different spheres – and cell phones can already be used to pay for parking both on and off street (something no-one predicted back in 1984 when I started looking at cashless parking on-street – although phone cards seemed promising). What I also thought was interesting was that some people at Transitcamp liked the idea of pay by distance. Most transit systems abandoned that here years ago in favour of flat fares and no change cash or token, and I suspect that transit trips got longer as a result. I still think that passes – paid up front, freedom of the system for a specified time – work best to get car users hooked on transit. But maybe a cashless electronic purse you can use to ride the bus, buy a paper and a cup of coffee would also work. And short rides would cost less. Trouble is we would need an intermediary and so far they are not playing nice with others. Maybe the social conscience of the credit unions could be tweaked?

UPDATE Montreal is getting smart cards

Written by Stephen Rees

December 11, 2007 at 9:51 am