A Peek at the Future of TriMet Fare Collection?

In response to our discussion about the likely recommendation of TriMet’s Fare Task Force, TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch passed along a white paper on electronic fare collection (PDF, 581K) that had been prepared at the request of General Manager Neil McFarlane.

Before commenting on the very interesting contents of the document, I want to provide a couple of disclaimers:

  1. I don’t know if Mary has sent this to other media outlets. If not, it’s an interesting choice to release it through Portland Transport. I’m tempted to take it as a compliment that it’s likely to get a thorough airing here. But I’m also conscious that it could be a calculation to release it in a venue where it might get more favorable treatment – readers can be the judge.
  2. We’re straying into an area where I have a conflict of interest. A couple of years ago my employer, Xerox Corp., purchased ACS Inc., a computer services firm that among its many business units has a transportation systems group that includes fare systems among its offerings. Indeed, Xerox/ACS just installed a contactless payment system for the transit system in Philadelphia. While I don’t work directly with the transportation systems group (I’m in a corporate web marketing group) as ACS is integrated into Xerox I am beginning to become more aware of and in communication with that business unit. Readers should be aware of that as they read my comments.

With that out of the way, some observations on the document:

  • It’s quite detailed and includes an implementation plan that has some very near term steps. This is to be taken seriously.
  • The flat-fare/limited-transfer recommendation of the fare task force is entirely consistent with the discussion in the document.
  • It contains a very interesting breakdown of the cost of collecting fares based on where they are purchased (those ticket vending machines we all complain about are by far the most expensive channel). There appears to be some hope that this could be financed based on savings in fare collection costs.
  • My personal fare-instrument-of-choice, the book of ten tickets, would appear to be going the way of the dodo bird. But given that I purchase these (I don’t use enough to justify a monthly pass – I do have an annual Streetcar pass) mainly to avoid the need for exact change, any kind of electronic system will meet my need.
  • It would appear that we’ll have many options for payment instruments: a stored value card, bank credit cards that contain smart chips, or ‘contactless’ systems like the NFC (near field communication) technology now beginning to be seen in phones.
  • My policy preference, a distance-based fare system, is possible but more complex (you need tap-on, tap-off, not just tap-on).
  • The technology makes peak-period fare premiums a possibility.
  • The draft schedules seem to suggest that this would not be implemented with the opening of PMLR, but perhaps within a year or so after the opening.
  • TriMet is apparently leaving the door open to use open source software for some aspects of the system.

Read and discuss!

27 Responses to A Peek at the Future of TriMet Fare Collection?