Management & Operations

Smart-card systems for the small community

Posted on February 1, 2006

Two common misconceptions among transit communities in North America are that smart-card solutions are expensive and that smart-card technology is only practical in large cities. On the contrary, smart-card solutions are not only affordable for large and small transit properties alike, but implementing a smart-card-based fare collection system can be more cost-effective over the life of the system than cash-only and magnetic swipe setups. Smart-card technology has become an “off-the-shelf” product, and fare media costs have decreased to the point that re-loadable smart tickets cost as little as 25 cents per ticket. Fare Logistics, a fare collection equipment supplier in Victoria, British Columbia, has installed smart-card systems in six small and medium-sized U.S. transit properties. All of these agencies use smart cards for long-term riders, such as season pass holders, and smart tickets for time- and token-based passes. Distribution and re-loading of smart cards have become bigger challenges than implementing a smart-card solution on the bus itself. Low-end, indoor ticket vending machines (TVM) and high-end, rugged outdoor TVMs are solutions that decrease operating costs in the long run and provide greater customer convenience with 24-hour self-serve options. To start, most small and medium-sized communities may find it easier to implement a simply designed “attended reload station,” which includes a smart-card reader hooked up to a telephone line and a PDA. This installation has a minimal impact on the initial implementation of a smart-card system. No changes are required to the existing ticket distribution locations or the system of selling a transit authority’s current paper passes. The entire system installation, certification and employee training can be performed in less than four hours. Smart-card systems can utilize standalone readers or be incorporated into a full-functioning farebox. Either way, smart-card technology is affordable and easy to implement for small and medium-sized communities. Bus riders can benefit from faster boarding times and a greater variety of payment options. Transit organizations can benefit by reducing daily driver interaction, and management will be provided more accurate and detailed data collection.

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