May 10--Next to the locomotives and tracks, SunRail is about to make one of its most high-profile purchases: the fare collection system.
Managers of the SunRail commuter train have set aside $5 million to buy 48 machines that will be set up at the first 12 stops along what eventually will be a 61.5-mile route. The equipment will collect money, spit out vouchers and confirm boardings and exits.
Three companies have entered bids, and a winner will be picked May 21. Vying for the contract are ACS, Indra and GFI.
The fare boxes will be stand-alone kiosks that accept cash or credit. They will issue plastic, credit-card-like passes that will be used to "tap on, tap off" the train. Pre-paid cards also will be available at retail shops, though no deals have been struck with any yet.
Conductors will periodically traverse the train, using electronic devices to read the cards to ensure the rider has paid. Fines of a yet-to-be-determined amount would be issued to scofflaws.
The key to the fare system will be ensuring that the equipment and software work seamlessly with the Lynx and Votran bus companies feeding riders to the train, as well as taking passengers to their final destinations.
"It's a complicated journey," said Tawny O'Lore, SunRail project manager for the state Department of Transportation, which is charged with getting the $1.2 billion train up and running.
Votran, which operates in Volusia County, and Lynx, which provides buses in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, intend to upgrade their fare systems to work with SunRail.
Votran expects to spend $175,000 to ensure that the 35 buses it envisions linking with SunRail have the right equipment, said spokeswoman Joanne Magli. Lynx anticipates spending as much as $1.38 million getting its 300-bus fleet ready for SunRail, said bus spokesman Matt Friedman.
Along with tying three companies together, the fare system also must fairly split the money collected, O'Lore said.
The tentative policy being worked out between the three would give the initial fare to the system that originally picks up the rider. There would be free transfers within a county.
For example, Lynx would keep the base fare of $2.50 if a bus dropped off a rider at Altamonte Springs, who gets on the train there and exits at Church Street in downtown Orlando.
But if a Votran rider got on SunRail in DeBary, then left at Florida Hospital near College Park in Orange, the fare money would be split. Votran would get the $2.50 base fare, but SunRail would get $2, or $1 for each county traversed (Seminole and Orange).
O'Lore anticipates that about 20 percent of SunRail's passengers will be dropped off by buses. The majority, she said, likely will drive to a station to catch a ride, leaving the car in an adjacent parking lot.
The state already has placed an $18 million order for seven diesel locomotives from Motive Power, a manufacturer based in Boise, Idaho. Another $40 million is being spent on new rail to double-track the first phase.
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Copyright 2012 - The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.