With its MetroCard, New York became the first multimodal system in North America to implement a retrofitted integrated fare collection technology that could be used on both its bus and rail systems. Now it looks that more cities are about to get into the act.
Recently, the Metropolitan Atlanta (Ga.) Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) took a page from the Big Apple’s playbook and issued a request for proposal for new fare collection technology that also will encompass both buses as well as the city’s heavy rail system. In the future, say MARTA officials, it might also encompass regional public transport services of the newly created Greater Atlanta Regional Transportation Authority. Bids for the huge contract, which also encompasses new fare media, data collection and system maintenance, are due to MARTA in January with a winner announced later in 2000. Competition and interest in the contract is intense; the prebid conference alone drew approximately 100 companies.
Such large-scale integration projects appear to be the next wave in the fare collection marketplace. “This is being driven by transit properties’ desire to have a seamless system that passengers can use with one card,” says Kim Green, vice president of sales and marketing for GFI Genfare. “It’s also driven by their desire for compatible electronic fare media, whether magnetic or smart cards.”
Virtually every large multimodal city in the U.S. is said to be examining this approach, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston. Seattle, a virtual start-up with both new bus and rail networks overlaid on the existing multimodal system, is also looking at it, but, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, it faces an additional challenge of both new and existing infrastructure under management of multiple agencies.
What’s also interesting about these new contracts, Green says, is that they are stimulating the formation of partnerships in consortia, drawing upon the expertise of more than a single company. It is very much like what has gone on in new rail lines, especially turnkey projects, he points out.
Of course, the logical conclusion of this trend is what has happened in London and Hong Kong,” Green adds. In both cities private consortia are responsible for the design, manufacture, installation, operation and maintenance of multimodal fare collection technology. The British government is expected to save billions of pounds in both the upgrade job and the efficiencies that the new system, being managed by a consortium called PRESTIGE, is projected to generate. In Hong Kong, the Creative Star Consortium responsible for its new smart card system actually turns a profit and earns money for the country’s bus and rail operators.
Will such a scheme come to U.S. shores? Eventually, predicts Green, but first things first. “It’s a more slowly evolving situation thank many people think,” he says, adding: “Five years ago smart cards were supposed to take over the industry, and we’re still waiting to see them get out of the pilot project phase.”