An automated transit fare collection system using smart card technology was field tested during the multi-agency "Smart Passport" demonstration project in Ventura County, California between January 1996 and October 1999. The fare collection system integrated several ITS technologies - automatic passenger counters, automatic vehicle location systems based on Global Positioning System technology and contactless smart card technology - and was applied to seven bus transit systems simultaneously. Transit patrons had the option to use the Smart Passport fare card as a prepaid pass or as a "stored value" debit card. With the pass, passengers were able to ride on any of the seven systems and transfer between systems at no extra charge.
The demonstration project ended in 1999 without Ventura County transit operators experiencing many of the programs anticipated benefits. The system was plagued by numerous operational and data processing problems, resulting in inconsistent data and infrequent reports. While the system performed well for some of the smaller transit operators, the system was never fully operational for the largest transit operator in the county, South Coast Area Transit, due to system reliability problems. Despite these problems, the demonstration is considered a positive step forward in laying the foundation for regional, multi-agency coordination.
Enable regional smart card programs by encouraging regular and open communication among all stakeholders and finding a champion.
The Smart Passport demonstration project was a risky endeavor for the participating transit operators. The project required agencies to work with or around employees who were resistant to change and reluctant to work with other public-private sector organizations.
VCTC and its board of directors successfully championed the demonstration project. They gained the support of the participating agencies by communicating their belief that the suite of technologies being offered had a proven performance record and would produce reliable ridership information. VCTC lobbied operators to participate in the demonstration by assuring operators that their agency would bear none of the costs, would receive adequate technical support to install and maintain the equipment, and would derive benefits from lower operating costs and improved service. As the participants accepted the new system, VCTC moved from the role of champion to facilitator by establishing a working group that met monthly to address and resolve policy and technical issues.
By the end of the project, the transit operators had overcome many challenges and reached a high level of institutional coordination, under the leadership of VCTC. The participating operators worked collaboratively to test a new system and supporting technology. Transit representatives were able to persuade management at all levels of the organizations to support the program. Moreover, VCTC led the effort to re-engineer many operational and business processes that required a higher level of cross-departmental cooperation, including agreeing on financial reciprocity among participants and accommodating multiple fare policies and service requirements.
Despite the numerous system reliability problems faced during the demonstration and the eventual premature dissolution of the project in 1999, VCTC's commitment to smart card technology has led to a commitment by the same agencies to deploy a new system in 2001 and to serious discussions about development of similar programs by commuter rail and transit operators throughout southern California. VCTC has continuously promoted the anticipated benefits of a well developed smart card system, and has actively encouraged operating agencies outside of the county to consider formation of a program.
Thus, a lead organization, with a strong commitment similar to that of VCTC, is needed to:
- Articulate the vision, goals, and objectives of the region
- Gain support from decision makers at the national, regional, and local levels
- Emphasize the need for a significant public education campaign
- Secure funding for program capital and operating costs
- Establish and enforce day-to-day management controls
- Develop strict system performance measures for participating agencies, system vendors, and integrators.
Regular and open communication is needed among all stakeholders.
Throughout the demonstration, revenue sharing and system reliability issues demanded considerable attention. Communication between Echelon, the project manager, and some of the participating transit operators was poor. Most communication between Echelon and the participants was through VCTC. Some transit operators perceived this role as giving too much power to VCTC, and viewed Echelon as VCTC's agent a perception that eventually degraded Echelon's relationships with the operators.
VCTC attempted to restore good relationships by hosting monthly meetings with the operators' administrative staffs, to improve coordination and communication among the participants. However, full trust between Echelon and some of the participating transit agencies was never restored.
It is essential to identify all stakeholders at the onset of a program, and ensure continual open communication between all of them. Stakeholders can include, but are not limited to, participating operators, the vendor, the clearinghouse provider or other service providers, and the project manager. Open communication between maintenance staff and the vendor is critical to building trust and maintenance staff acceptance of the technology. Technical and operational committees can facilitate coordination among them by providing a forum for them to identify, address, and resolve issues.
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