When riders take the new busway between New Britain and Hartford next year, they won't line up to pay at the farebox onboard — because there won't be one.
Instead, CTfastrak will employ a new pay-at-the-platform system that's become the standard at many public transit services around the country. Instead of feeding dollar bills and quarters into a machine alongside the driver, passengers will pay at the station and simply walk onto the bus with no delay.
Such systems are used on light rail and bus rapid transit operations in Denver, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Cleveland and elsewhere, but Connecticut has been accustomed to the tradition of paying on board. CT Transit buses don't have turnstiles, but drivers typically watch as each person boards and either displays a pass or pays cash.
This month, the state transportation department is seeking bids to buy ticket vending machines to install at each of the busway's 11 stations, Westfarms Mall, the UConn Health Center, State House Square, Trumbull Street and Union Station. The boxes will look a lot like the new parking-fee vending machines along Hartford city streets that have done away with the old-fashioned quarter-eating meters at each space.
Riders will be able to buy one-ride or one-day passes with cash, credit cards or debit cards. The big benefit, according to CTfastrak managers, is time. They're pitching the busway as a fast alternative to traffic-clogged I-84, and making good on that promise requires the buses to keep moving with few, brief stops.
The whole system is being built to make that possible: Station platforms are elevated so riders can walk on and off the bus without any stairs, overpasses have been built to avoid major intersections, and the busway itself is restricted to buses so there'll be no risk of traffic jams.
By having passengers buy tickets before they board, CTfastrak can move the articulated buses through each stop as efficiently as possible: The bus arrives at the platform, passengers get out through any of the three doors, new passengers immediately board, and the bus pulls away.
"We don't want a queue of people at the farebox on CTfastrak. We want them to be able to board through every door," said Graham Carey, who is managing many of the system's operations.
The system does away with the need for passengers to stand in line at the front door and pay one by one. The old system gets cumbersome and time-consuming when several people try to board at once and none have the correct change or must fumble through wallets or pocketbooks to find their bus passes.
Graham and CTfastrak Manager Michael Sanders acknowledge that the new arrangement is more of a honor system, since there's no turnstile to pass through and no ticket agent or driver to verify payment. But CTfastrak will do what light rail and bus rapid transit systems in other cities do: Employ uniformed workers to board some buses for proof a payment. Riders without tickets or valid passes could be subject to warning or fines; the DOT hasn't worked out the precise penalties yet.
In Cleveland, violators can be required to pay a fine many times the cost of a bus fare, and repeat offenders face a misdemeanor summons.
The plan for CTfastrak is to make the entire platform a "paid fare" zone — so that anyone waiting there must have proof of paying a valid fare. Customers with electronic passes will tap them against a reader that records they've entered the system.
There are two benefits to restricting the platform to paid customers, Sander said: Inspectors can start checking for proof of payment even before riders board, and loiterers will be discouraged from hanging around the stations.
The DOT isn't saying exactly how many fare inspectors it will hire, but the typical model in other states and countries is for only occasional, random inspections. Sanders and Carey said the inspectors can target particular routes, days or times of day if they detect a pattern of fare-beating.