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.
“Now there are new passes coming out where there’s limited-use smart cards, which are much smaller chips with smaller memory.” He continues, “Instead of being embedded in a credit card-size piece of plastic, they’re embedded in a thin sheet of laminate material or paper so that they’re thin, cheap and disposable.”
GFI Genfare’s limited-use proximity integrated circuit cards (LUPICC), also known as “think cards,” were developed precisely for this use. The cards are manufactured using 10-mil stock and, though still more expensive than magnetic fare cards, they are well-suited for short duration passes and could replace magnetics if the cost continues to drop.
One other way in which fare collection technology is changing is adaptation to its environment. With the expanding bus rapid transit (BRT) market, GFI Genfare has made improvements that are better suited to this particular environment. Sunlight-readable passenger displays, which are readable in all ambient lighting conditions, including direct sunlight and weather-resistant cabinet for outdoor conditions have made its Vendstar Ticket Vending Machine more suitable for this market.
There’s a variety of fare media that need to be supported, including limited-use smart cards, general purpose smart cards, bank cards, NFC phones and, of course, cash. With changes in currency, technology is making it easier for agencies to adapt. “Money is changing in the United States,” says Dukous. “They’re adding more color features on the currency so what we’ve developed, we’ve added new optic color sensors that typically scan both sides of the bill to optimize the pattern recognition.”
Future technology is looking toward remote updates. “In older technology you would have to do one individually,” says Dukous. “If you have 1,000 buses in your authority, that takes a long time.
“Down the road there’s the opportunity where you could remotely download through a network; that’s a lot quicker and faster,” he explains.
“As the new $5 bill is introduced, we have a flash memory card where you’re able to basically update the bill validators in eight to 15 seconds,” he explains. “You put in a memory stick and it updates itself in the new firmware.”
Currency management is something else that’s making things more cost-effective for the agencies. “It validates money, it recycles money and it dispenses money,” says Dukous. “It improves productivity, it increases profitability, reduces outputting costs and reduces shrinkage.
“Typically you’re using the money that you receive to also dispense so the transit agencies have to spend less time replenishing the dispenser with change in order to give out change.” He adds, “There are less labor costs involved.”
Projects to Watch
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) update replaced its entire fare collection system. As one of the oldest agencies, it had some of the oldest equipment out there. This project was facilitating all modes of transit to its smart card, the Charlie card. The system went live January 1, 2007 and within a month and a half, there were 1.2 million cards distributed in the system. With 60 percent of the transactions on the Charlie card, it’s been an overall success in record time.
In Atlanta the smart card pays for more then just your fare. At the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the rider’s smart card can also pay for his or her parking, making paying for parking more convenient and efficient for the rider. You present your card to the reader, it encodes the data to the smart card so you don’t get anything from the machine. When you leave the lot, you just go to an exit, hold up the card that scans the data that was encoded as you entered, it calculates how much you owe and subtracts that off the stored value and away you go. It takes steps out of the process, saving time and money.
Trials of specially equipped cell phones being used to pay transit fares are underway in San Francisco at BART and in London’s TTC. In San Francisco, pre-selected trial participants will use Sprint trial phones that are embedded with near field communication (NFC)-enabled smart chips.
These chips, developed by NXP Semiconductors, facilitate secure, contactless communication. These phones will also be able to be used at participating Jack in the Box restaurants.
Each participant initially has a stored value of $48 worth of BART rides. Once the stored value drops below $10, the NFC technology automatically reloads the phone over the air with another $48 of rides. The participant is automatically charged the discounted $45.
The smart card used by the Transport for London system, Oyster, that application has been added to the OnePulse card. It’s called a 3-in-1 card; it has conventional EMV credit card functionality, contactless payment functionality and the Oyster application so when the card is presented at a turnstile or to a bus, it looks like an Oyster card. When the bankcard is presented to the reader, it captures the credit card information and then the patron enters the system and it gets processed like a credit card transaction after the fact. deKozan says, “It’s basically a virtual transit card loaded on to the bank card.”
He also mentions that software can be added to the readers so that the readers conform with the bankcard standard. “Essentially what happens is when you present the bankcard to the reader, it just captures the credit card information and then the patron enters the system and it gets processed like a credit card transaction after the fact.”
Since its introduction in 2003, the Oyster smart card for the Transport for London (TfL) has had continual added benefits. TfL and TranSys, the consortium which delivers the Oyster smart card on behalf of TfL allows passengers contactless fare payment and contactless Visa technology.
After successful trials early in 2007, in September TfL launched the Barclaycard OnePulse, a 3-in-1 card that combines Oyster applications with credit card and cashless payment facilities. OneTouch contactless payment allows the purchase of low-cost items by simply touching the card on a special reader at various outlets in the city. The new card gives the passengers the ability to pay for low-cost goods and to pay for Oyster fares without the need of carrying cash.
Another partnership was in December when TfL partnered with iTunes to offer new users who sign up for the Oyster Auto top-up account, five free songs from the iTunes Store. Auto top-up allows users to manage their pay-as-you-go travel from their home or office. The technology continues to make riding transit and running everyday errands easier and more convenient for the riders.
More Related Information:
Archived Article: Focus On… — Fare Collection’s Future
Archived Article: No Fare Zone
Mass Transit Buyer’s Guide: Fare Collection Products, Supplies
Transportation Video Network: Using an Automated Farebox