Smart cards have been the buzzwords in fare collection for some time now. What those cards can do and the form they are taking is continually evolving. The latest technology is offering convenience and flexibility not only for the transit agencies but also for the transit users.
“When you look at particularly a subway environment, or a bus, there are a lot of environmental challenges,” says David deKozan, vice president of marketing with Cubic Transportation Systems. “You’ve got very high-volume traffic in the subway environment, so the demand, the cycle-duty on the equipment, is very high and you’re in an environment where you’ve got all kinds of vibration and brake dust and voltage spikes.” He adds with a laugh, “All kinds of wonderful things.” He explains. “You’ve got equipment requirements that are unique as well when you go from city to city. Fare policy is different from market to market, or even within markets if you’ve got multiple agencies that have different fare structures.
“You’ve got to be able to support various fare structures through a common system so that one card can be used by multiple agencies; you have to preserve the ability to control and change and update their individual fare structures.” He adds, “It creates a lot of unique systems-level requirements as well as the physical requirements.”
After several years of numerous companies working together, the American Public Transportation Association’s Universal Transit Fare Cards (UTFS) task force adopted the contactless fare media standard in January of 2007. Working with open standards facilited interoperability in the marketplace.
“While they all have a lot of common elements, each agency does have unique aspects,” comments Brian Stein, senior business development manager for Scheidt & Bachmann USA, chair of the UTFS working group that completed part III of the released standard and chair for the group to develop the testing specification for testing compliance of the standard.
Multiple Purposes, Multiple Uses
New versions of technology are entering the market everyday. The basic contactless card that is suitable for transit is being incorporated in similar cards geared toward other application requirements. The physical standards are the same, but the application standards vary, whether it’s more or less security, more or less memory or they may be faster or slower.
“A lot of what we have to do at the front end and systems level is to create an environment where we can deal with various card technologies, all of which conform to the same physical standard,” says deKozan. The consumer may have a card from the transit agency, the bank or the DMV, all of which could have a different chip in the card. “But that has to be all completely transparent to the user — it just has to work,” deKozan adds with a laugh.
“We anticipate that in the long run, what’s going to happen is that all these different strategies will be supported in the system simultaneously because you don’t know when someone enters the station, do they have a contactless card? If they do, do they want to use it?” deKozan says.
“They might just want to use their standard transit card, they might just want to go buy a limited-use card out of the machine.” He continues, “You have to have a system solution that is very flexible and that allows all of these different fare media options to coexist so that people have choices.”
Agencies are also benefiting from this flexibility. Paul Dukous, director, business development-parking/transportation for CashCode Co. Inc., explains, “Let’s say they want to cut a deal with a bank and they want to start accepting bank cards but they want to continue to be able to issue their own cards.
They want to migrate away from magnetics and toward limited-use technology. Typically these agencies have targeted the permanent long-life smart cards toward their heavy-duty ridership but that didn’t make a lot of sense to hand an expensive smart card to somebody that’s only going to ride the train once.