We are quickly coming up on the opening of the RapidRide A line. While I’m very excited that Metro is testing a proof of payment (POP) system, I’m worried that the trial is set up in a way that makes eventual adoption less likely.
From my understanding the trial is set up like this. All RapidRide stations will have ORCA card readers. When boarding at these stations ORCA card users tap their card at the station and then board at any door. Those that don’t have an ORCA card board at the front door and pay with the driver. At normal stops all riders must board at the front door either using the ORCA card reader onboard or paying with the driver. All riders will be required to have proof of payment, with the implication that fare inspectors will ask to see it. I’m not too clear on this last point, and I get the feeling Metro isn’t either.
The problem with this design is that you have all of the problems associate with either fare systems without getting all of the benefits. Traditional pay as you board systems are good because drivers enforce fare payment (sort of), but as everyone knows it can be painfully slow, especially when people pay with cash. Conversely POP systems are bad because you have to employ fare enforcers, but are good because they significantly decreases dwell times by eliminating fare transactions with the driver, allowing for all door boarding, and improving internal circulation. In the case of RapidRide Metro will have to employ fare enforcers but won’t see all the time savings, because cash payments will still be processed by the driver. Additionally, this system is incompatible with the ride free area which will affect lines C, D and E and is confusing since payment process varies from one stop to the next.
More after the jump.
Again, it’s good to see Metro trying this but they are trying to force a solution that just isn’t ideal. Unlike Link or Swift, Metro’s RapidRide lines simply have too many stops. As the system expands the problem will be compounded. While Swift has 15 vehicles and 22 stations, Line A will have 16 vehicles and 52 stations and stops. See the problem?
However there is a workaround. While every POP system I have seen in the North America is designed with fare transactions occurring at stations, there is no reason that transaction can’t occur in-vehicle. An in-vehicle system could use TVMs like the one in the photo above from Gothenburg, Sweden, or less costly parking pay stations (Swift does this) that take cash, coins and credit card. Many cities in Europe (Brussels, Berlin, Karlsruhe, Gothenburg, etc.) use this type of system on their old tram lines.
An in-vehicle POP system could have ORCA card readers at all doors as well as one TVMs onboard. The TVM should be located near the door but in an area that will not impede boarding of other passengers. At busy stations such as downtown or at LINK stations additional TVMs could be added at the station. The trial fare system for Line A has 44 ORCA card readers and 16 fare box machines. A vehicle based system would probably have 48 OCRA card readers and 16 TVMs. Thus the major cost difference between the trial system and a vehicle based POP system comes down to the cost difference of the fare box machines versus TVMs and the installation costs of ORCA readers along the corridor vs in vehicle. I looked up the cost of both the fare box machines and pay station machines and from what I was able to find they are in the same order of magnitude.
In the long run it’s critically important that Metro gets this right. Without exclusive ROW to speed up buses, keeping buses moving as much as possible needs to the top priority, and that essentially means TSP and a POP system. As ridership increases, especially ridership of non-ORCA card users increases, a well designed POP system becomes ever more important. A vehicle based POP system, unlike station based system, could concievablely work on other core routes as well.