The integration of regional smart-card systems revved up everyone’s curiosity at the American Public Transportation Association’s 2005 TransITech conference in Long Beach, Calif., in February.
“Our big challenge is going to be integrating all the different systems in our county,” said Long Beach Transit (LBT) President Larry Jackson at a conference session on emerging technologies.
An even bigger concern seems to be the choice of the “back office” company, which is critical to the success of integrating software accounting systems.
One common idea shared among conferees is that riders will charge specific dollar amounts to their card and travel region-to-region accessing that money. When a customer boards a bus in one county, for example, then a week later boards a train in a different county, each region must incur a percentage of the customer’s fare. The back office is responsible for appropriating equitable proportionate revenues to each region.
Jackson compared this accounting process to wire transfers. “Banks move money by wire all over the place,” he said. “It’s highly encrypted because you’ve got to make sure that the millions of dollars you’re earning are going to be secure. It’s a major project, but in the end, it’s critical for our customers.”
LBT is moving forward with its own smart-card system. Jackson said it will take approximately two years to get it up and running.
Maureen Bertocci, chief technology officer for the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) in Pittsburgh, said she has global hopes for the smart card, and she compared it to a Starbucks coffee card. “You charge it online or over the phone with an 800 number, it goes through one service center and that’s it,” Bertocci said.
PAAC is putting together a business case for Bertocci’s coffee card idea. The agency is currently looking into the feasibility of a smart-card reader assembled with inexpensive interchangeable parts and one back office.
Along with smart cards, also on the menu for discussion at TransITech was the importance of accurate ridership numbers and their relationship to the transit industry’s economic future. Another issue that was debated is how vandalism, fare evasion, duplicate cards and customer service problems can continue in spite of technological enhancements to agencies.
“We’re in a transition,” Orange County Transportation Authority Deputy Chief Executive Officer Richard Bacigalupo said at a conference workshop addressing ridership concerns. “We have about 70 buses out there now, and we are using an automatic passenger counter on them.” He added that the counts are going well.
“We’re in the same situation,” Jackson agreed. “We’re moving into electronics. It’s something that, over the years, has driven me crazy, but we will now be able to look at the automatic counters to be able to really, truly know what’s happening in our system.”