David Crawford monitors a growing trend in contactless smartcard ticketing
The north east United States has become a hive of activity in the smart fare payment arena. In October 2011, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority
(MTA) published, as a preliminary to an imminent procurement process, the detailed concept of its New Fare Payment System (NFPS).
Based on open payment industry standards, this is designed to be implemented on all MTA bus and subway services operated by New York City Transit (NYCT), MTA Bus, Long Island Bus and the Staten Island Railway.
Eventually, NFPS will extend to the Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road, and MTA Bridges & Tunnels – and possibly, MTA paratransit services. In the interests of minimising costs, the MTA requires the system chosen to be based as far as possible on commercial, off-the-shelf technology and existing processes and infrastructure. It will need to cope with average weekday transaction volumes totalling nearly eight million.
Publication of the concept follows on from the successful conclusion in 2010 of a pioneering joint initiative by three linked operators – NYCT, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson rail service between New York and New Jersey, and New Jersey Transit – to explore open standard, bank-issued contactless smartcard devices for transit fare payment. A key goal was to develop a solution that built on existing financial payment systems without interfering with customer flows; possibly enhancing these, on buses for example, where faster boarding could encourage greater patronage.
A second phase pilot scheme ran from June 2010 to November 2010 – the first such effort to erase the need for a passenger to carry a separate fare card for each service. For the first two months, any MasterCard
PayPass enabled card or device from any issuer was accepted; starting in the third month, Visa
payWave cards and devices could also be used.
The MTA concluded that all of its aims were met, among them achievement of the following:
- Operational requirements for speed and real-time authentication of transactions;
- Potential to use wireless communications to complement hard wired subway (metro) infrastructure; and
- A high degree of data security while allowing for relevant business and technical flexibility.
The agency has stated that the trial gave it valuable experience of the risks and benefits of aggregating passenger transactions and of the potential alternatives for processing these, and has now moved towards procurement. MTA plans to begin deployment on buses in 2013 and to build a subway (metro) telecoms infrastructure for use by 2015, with all fare products being fully contactless by 2018. “Commuter rail, however, is a different animal”, an MTA spokeswoman told ITS International.
Costs are a key driver behind the NFPS initiative. They average 15 cents per US dollar of revenue collected via MetroCards and in cash. The latter, which consists of over $1.5Bn in coins and dollar bills annually, represents almost 50% of total fare payments and is relatively expensive to handle. Meanwhile, vandalism at vending machines is on the increase.
Another expected benefit is a reduction in currently lengthy bus boarding and dwell times. NYCT puts the MetroCard fare payment transaction time at between two and six seconds – more for cash.
Most importantly, MTA is in dire need of a single fare collection system across all of its agencies and modes. Without such, MTA’s aims of achieving a regional approach to mobility and boosting intermodal travel and reduced car use are hampered – not least because MTA presently has limited ability to introduce fare incentives as policy tools.
Meanwhile, NJ Transit has continued with a Tap>Ride programme to test the acceptance of contactless payments on its system. The initial rollout enabled customers to tap and ride with contactless bank cards at Newark Liberty International Airport Station and on three flat-fare bus routes in the state’s Hudson County.
In August 2011, the programme was expanded to include three multi-zone bus routes, including inter-state travel into New York, with payments based on distance travelled. Passengers can use their credit, debit, prepaid card, mobile phone or device (monthly passes, 10 trip tickets or childrens’ fares can can be purchased online at www.njtransit.com/tapride
To make this possible, NJ Transit worked with Maryland-based ACS
Transport Solutions Group, which is providing the host transit payment platform integrated with GPS for zonal payment. Passengers without a contactless bank card can obtain one at a self-service kiosk at Hoboken Station in New Jersey and use it instantly at all NJ Transit open payment entry points. They can then register it if they wish to top it up at retail locations.
NJ Transit is also evaluating a special payment service for passengers with disabilities. It is working with a selected sample of riders to demonstrate the viability of a rubberised wristband with an embedded contactless PayPass enabled payment chip. Users can wave or tap their wristbands at bus readers (and airport faregates) to gain access.
November 2011 saw the launch of a parallel initiative, again with ACS, by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
(SEPTA), the main public transit operator in the City of Philadelphia and an area including four adjacent suburban counties. The delivery team includes local partners Parsons
Transportation Group, which is providing design, engineering and construction support services, and Temple University
, which is carrying out software development.
The $129.5M, three year contract aims to allow all of the agency’s bus, subway, trolleybus and rail passengers to pay for their trips using credit or debit cards that they already own, or new cards from SEPTA. The system is being designed so that it will eventually also accept payments made by smartphones.
All of SEPTA’s five transportation modes (bus, subway, trolleybus, regional rail, and paratransit) will use the payment system, allowing passengers to ride and transfer between modes using common fare media. This project involves upgrades on 117 bus routes (1,336 buses), eight trolley lines (185 cars), three trackless trolley routes (38 trolleys), two subway and elevated lines (343 cars), one interurban high speed rail (26 cars), 13 regional railroad lines (349 cars), and 149 regional rail stations.
SEPTA bus and subway riders will gain the the new service first, by late 2013, with regional rail coming on stream a year later. Early users will not experience any major change, as the new card readers will simply replace old subway turnstiles and bus fare stanchions.
The major challenge – as it is for New York’s MTA – will be the regional rail services, whose 118,000 daily passengers account for 13% of the agency’s customers and – more importantly – 25% of its revenue. At the Philadelphia City Centre end of their trips, passengers will, for the first time, face gates and turnstiles channelling them past the new electronic readers; at the other end they will need to touch out at platform readers (or possibly on train conductors’ handheld devices) to have the correct fare deducted.
SEPTA is still working on the necessary zonal fare structures and arrangements for transfers and occasional passengers. The new system is also designed to provide accurate, real-time business intelligence on all services to make possible better management, modification of services and response to riders’ needs.
Meanwhile, another regional operator, the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) has now entered the field. Its rail service links central Philadelphia via 13 stations (three of them interchanges with other regional commuter lines) along a single east-west route across the Delaware River and into New Jersey, for onward connections to Atlantic City.
It carries over 38,000 passengers a day, and claims to have replaced more than 12,500 cars on the roads of South New Jersey and Philadelphia. PATCO is currently working with San Diego headquartered automatic fare collection (AFC) specialist Cubic
Transportation Systems (CTS) on a 12-month pilot deployment of an open-loop Visa prepaid card that is acceptable for retail as well as fare-paying transactions – claimed to be a world’s first. It is being offered as a low-fee product to the agency.
Reviewing these developments, the industry-wide Smart Card Alliance
acknowledges the potency of the established transit agency model of proprietary card payments. This developed steadily through the 1990s and the following decade as most major US transit agencies invested in new automatic fare collection technologies with considerable passenger appeal.
At the same time, their ageing has proved costly, as New York’s MTA has found; while banking industry moves in the direction of contactless cards have appealed to passengers that want to minimise delays on their journeys. Again, as the Smart Card Alliance points out: “by adopting bank industry standards for payment, the goal of interoperability is achieved”.