Is Your System Getting Smart?

Smart card technology revolutionizes your system giving you an abundance of data you can use to know exactly who is riding your system, where they are riding, when they are riding, etc. Switching over to the new technology makes people uncomfortable and it’s the agency’s job to make them comfortable for a smooth transition.


At the APTA Fare Collection Workshop in Miami, Fla., several people that have gone through this process shared their experience and insight. There was a lot of great information from the panel, more than could be included in one brief. Some of the key points for the early stages of getting those new cards out there are included here. And the one piece of information that couldn't be stressed enough: get the staff involved from the beginning — all staff. 


Miami-Dade Transit Senior Executive Director Clinton Forbes said, “Listen to your employees; they’re your most valuable consultants.” Renee Matthews, director of special projects with the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, and John Gobis, principal with Gobis & Company, agreed and both said that all departments of an organization will be impacted by this.


Gobis said if you want the new system to not work, there’s no better way then having your front-line staff talking down the system. “They could kill your system,” he said. “You need them involved from the beginning; bring them in under the tent.” Matthews reminded everyone that the frontline staff is a valuable resource as they will be teaching your customers — so rely on them.


Getting Those Cards Out

Theh entire process is an education campaign, so you have to have enough time to reach your riders. And they all agree that incremental programming is important so that the riders aren’t overwhelmed with the amount of information.


Neil Poling, a senior associate with Booz Allen Hamilton and working with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) on the Clipper card launch said it should be “little bits at one time.” And, that you need to inundate your riders with this information.


He said you’re achieving critical mass one customer at a time. You have to hit people where they are — on the streets and at the stations.


Matthews suggested, “Create a card distribution plan. Monitor your progress and make changes when needed.” Prior to launch they started distributing free Easy cards at vending machines at the stations and had teams of staff out and about to hand out the cards.


Forbes said Miami-Dade Transit handed out a half a million free cards. He also said to not distribute at fairs or other area local events. You may get a few new riders, but don’t mass distribute. Instead, give it to your customers first and go where your customers are.


“You almost have to take customers by the hand,” Poling said. “You just can’t market transit in a passive way.”


For Muni there were regular alerts to mom-and-pop stores, collaboration with major retailers in the area, stakeholder letters from the CEO and street teams out and about meeting with the people.


“And the single aspect most important was the street teams out asking people, ‘Do you have your Clipper Card?’” Poling said. “You must find money for this,” he stressed.


He said Muni’s Call to Action was “It’s Time to Switch” TV commercials that were over the air waves with catchy music and then Executive Director/CEO Nathaniel Ford appearing on other commercials encouraging people to get their new card and sharing how this new technology is helping Muni to improve the agency.


Miami-Dade Transit had 50 administration staff members that were trained and then scheduled to pass out information at the stations. They wore easy-to-spot Easy Card vests and were stationed at the stations to talk to customers. Forbes stresses, “Use your people. You need the vendor’s help, but use your people.”


Getting the riding public to convert to the new systems was exhaustive for all and continually hitting the riders with the message and making it as easy as possible for them to get the new card was key, they agreed.


One joked that the next message simply should be something to the effect of "Just Get Your Damn Card," which clearly illustrates the dedication and determination it will take from an entire agency to make the transition a success.


“Expect the unexpected; expect things to slip,” Matthews said. And Forbes added, “You’re going to have problems. Expect them, be prepared for them.”


Reach out to your peers to learn from them was another critical point brought up during the discussion. Learning from others is the best way to be prepared for the challenges you may face.