Matsumoto also says that the new system allows them to check for passengers who have valid fare cards, but haven’t validated them before entering the system since Metro’s light rail system isn’t gated.
“We are finding that many of our patrons don’t stop to tap their cards because they feel that they don’t have to and then jump on the train,” Matsumoto says.
“When a patron like that is captured on the handheld validators now ... we are modifying [the screen] so that it will shine yellow meaning the patron is actually carrying a valid monthly pass but they failed to tap before boarding. The fare inspectors will instruct that patron to get off the train and go tap it because [capturing ridership] is a very important feature of the system.”
“When the officer reads the card, they relatively instantly receive more data than we did on the previous devices,” says Randle.
“They can tell on the phone where the patron tagged or validated his card, which station he was at, and they can also scroll through and see the last 10 rides the patron has taken as well as the stored value remaining on the card or what type of pass they are using.”
Currently Metro has 100 of the new phones in use, but it is acquiring more than six times that amount. Metro Transit has two dozen in use at any time with about six more for spares.
Neither agency allows its law enforcement officers to use the phones as phones, but Metro Transit’s conductors can.
“It’s not a technology issue,” Matsumoto says. “That would be a policy decision because officers are required by their own procedures to communicate by radio. Cell phones are typically personal devices, so we would not want to alter their internal procedures.”
Despite some challenges, the agencies are happy with the NFC technology on the phones.
“It’s worked out well for us,” Randle says. “Even though the officers were familiar with the technology, the actual use of the devices was challenging. We seem to have large officers with big hands, so hitting the wrong button was a little bit difficult.”
Matsumoto says, “In the future this very same cell phone right now is going through the process of enabling it to actually write to the card. So we are actually exploring using these for small transit operators who may not really need a full functioning farebox, for example, with all of the TAP capabilities.
“[These systems] just want to know if somebody jumps on their bus and we have a reciprocal pass agreement with them or an interagency transfer agreement with them.
“When this customer jumps on their bus it may be a small shuttle, it may be a cutaway, it may not be a full fixed-route bus, but if they have one of these NFC-enabled devices, they will be able to certainly verify that the card is valid. Moreover, it will in the future be able to load potentially like a sale of a transfer to it.
“So that’s the reason why I think for other transit agencies I would really recommend this as a kind of the first step. I think that we’re showing here in LA how tap card tech is really a viable fare collection system for a bus-based system.
“Historically automated fare collection has been launched from rail-based systems that were gated,” Matsumoto says. “Magnetic cards were enabled to get people in and out of fare gates, but in L.A. we have demonstrated that — we’re probably the second largest bus fleet in the nation. We have a very complex fare structure, and we are a regional system with multiple regional partners that are all bus-based, and we’ve been able to demonstrate that smart card tech incorporating things like the NFC validation device can be deployed successfully in a very large regional bus-based program.”