Monday, November 13, 2006

The Payment Gridlock - Toronto Star

Fare cards will remove payment gridlock
New transit fare card readers will move riders and traffic along
Nov. 13, 2006. 06:33 AM
DAVID BRUSER

One-third of a second.

That's the estimated time new transit fare card readers will need to process the transaction when you pay to ride.

We know the region-wide fare card is coming, and that Accenture will get $250 million to design and put it in place. But provincial Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield talked with the Toronto Star to give readers of this column a better idea of how it will actually work for riders, transit agencies and possibly in the retail sector.

The prospect of time saved should appeal not only to mass transit riders but also to those who drive their cars to work in the morning.

If you've ever idled on Queen St. E., waiting in the right-hand lane as a slow line of riders boards a streetcar in the left lane, you think for a fleeting moment about gunning the engine to make them all scurry aboard.

Or try remaining calm standing in an excruciatingly torpid line at the Union Station farebox, as someone at the front peers into the depths of her purse for exact change.

"When people talk about the gridlock on the roads, they forget about the gridlock on transit, moving in and out of stations. You're standing at the corner, people are fumbling for change, they can't get a ticket," Cansfield said. "It's a huge timesaver. It's one of the big pluses of the fare card system."

Under the provincially created Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, the fare card will debut on four Mississauga bus routes, two stations on the GO Transit Milton line and Union Station by the middle of next year. But not until 2008, when the system expands to Burlington and Oakville, will commuters enjoy the full technological capability of the network. By 2010, the system will allow travel from Hamilton to Oshawa using a single card. This is, of course, assuming the hesitant, cash-strapped TTC decides to get fully on board the project.

While kiosks in transit stations and elsewhere will allow you to top up the dollar value on the card, Rob Hollis, director of the system, said at a transit conference last week that there will be another way to fill what he calls the "e-purse."

Through a call centre or online, commuters will be able to set up an account and allow automatic withdrawals of a pre-set amount from a debit or credit card whenever the value falls below $10 or $20 or whatever the rider chooses.

"You never have to worry about having the proper amount," Hollis said. "Just travel and forget."

The card will also know where the commuter transfers and automatically adjusts fares depending on which system he or she transfers to. Transit agencies will be able to use that data to quickly track where riders are going and which stations are the busiest, and adjust service levels accordingly, Cansfield said.

The card — expected to be the same size or smaller than a credit card — will get you on the subway, bus or train. But what if you're feeling peckish while walking through Union Station? Maybe sometime in the not-so-distant future you could use the fare card to buy a coffee and muffin. "You could use it (when) you get your Tim Hortons," Cansfield speculated.

And when you drive to the library to pay a late fee, why not use that same card to pay for your parking spot, then hand it over as both identification and payment at the library?

"We actually secured the rights for software services for the entire province of Ontario," Hollis said. "So if the municipalities want to partake in this particular infrastructure, they can develop to other areas. We're looking forward to working with other markets."

The new fare card could be the thin edge of a multipurpose one-card future.

"Hong Kong is the poster child for this," Hollis added. "They have micro-payments in retail stores. They have parking. They use it as an identity card."

The ministry of transportation is exploring those options, though Cansfield says the priority is to make sure the transit application works the way it should before considering how the card could interface elsewhere.

The GTTA will have to brand the card that will probably feature a logo, Cansfield said.

Any ideas on what it should be called? And please, for the sake of all guys out there, don't suggest e-purse.
I'm glad that Minister Cansfield is pushing the fare card, and I'm glad progress is being made. It will save time by eliminating the huge line ups at the collector booths - more people will be able to use the automatic turnstiles, leaving the collector to deal with people who need help or directions. It will save passengers money, as people who use different services won't have to buy multiple ticket types (a huge step forward for GO passengers like me). It will also save the agencies money, as they won't have to print as many tickets or take a loss on counterfeit fares.

As for a name, I hope it isn't something unimaginative like the new name for the subway cars, the "Toronto Rocket". I would have suggested "Silver Meteor", but that name is copyrighted by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).

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