Connect cards ‘modernize’ bus system

Written By Veronica Kropf

Pittsburgh’s Port Authority is implementing a new “connect card” fare system gradually throughout 2012. The modernized system will enable riders to swipe a card instead of feeding coins into fare boxes or buying bus passes.When the project is completely implemented next year, bus and rail riders will be able to pay with these connect cards that have implanted computer chips. Riders will preload the cards with money and then will tap the cards on the fare boxes and the amount will be deducted automatically.”I think that is so much better, there’s nothing worse than having to wait for someone to pay their fare, while they’re holding up everyone else,” Ashley Hunter, an information technology major and a commuter from Arlington Heights, said.Port authority hopes this new technology will be more convenient for riders.”It’s really going to help modernize our system,” Public Relations Representative of Port Authority, Heather Pharo said in a phone interview. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta already have their own version of this technology.”We want to make this major change in phases over the course of 2012, and just see how it goes so we can tackle any problems along the way,” Pharo said about the Port Authority’s plans for 2012.   Riders will be able to replenish the value of the cards at vending machines, which will be located at T stations, park-and-ride lots and other key locations. Riders will also be able to transfer money from their bank account to their connect card online, by setting up an account on the connect cards official website, which is not yet up and running. Cash will continue to be accepted.It is in the works that retailers who are partnered with the Port Authority will also be able to load money on to rider’s cards. At this time it has not yet been decided which retail stores will be equipped to do so.The new system will allow Port Authority to eventually eliminate annual bus passes first, then monthly and weekly passes, and finally the bus tickets.”It sounds really convenient, I won’t have to worry about going to the ATM for exact change. I can just download all the money at one time; it will be a lot easier for me,” Tabitha Vereen, a senior criminal justice major from Beachview, said about the new system.At this time it has not yet been decided whether or not riders will be charged an initial fee for the cards themselves and Port Authority has not yet figured out how transfers will work into the new system.”A lot of things as far as fare policy are still in the works. We’re still in the planning and policy making phase,” Pharo said.The University of Pittsburgh faculty, staff and students began using the technology back in August as a field test. Their university ID cards were enabled with the connect card technology. So far there have not been any complaints or issues. “This is a big education process, this is a big change for the city of Pittsburgh, we really want people to be well educated on the new system,” Pharo said.The $32 million development is intended to improve collections of bus fares and provide important new data about ridership, while offering improved convenience for customers. This new data will allow the port authority to understand their customers better. This new system will also dramatically cut down on fraud.Federal funding is covering 18 percent of the cost and state funding is covering 16.7 percent, according to Pharo.  These capital funds cannot be used for anything else other then this new system.