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.
The transit operators participated in the demonstration project primarily to obtain better transit data. They faced many technical challenges in achieving this goal. The following technical requirements can be extrapolated from lessons learned during the project:
- Establish system performance requirements in conjunction with participating operators during the planning phase of the program and applied regularly to monitor performance. The Smart Passport project required integration of new hardware and software that would enable the processing and collection of passenger data by each transit operator. The project also required a higher level of integration that would facilitate aggregation of the data to a central depository. It is unclear whether VCTC and the participating operators understood the complexity involved in integrating the equipment and systems at the beginning of the project. However, by the completion of the project, the participants began to understand the importance of working with Echelon to resolve system integration issues. The participants also recognized the importance of using commercial off-the-shelf components, maintaining a local inventory of replacement parts, and ensuring that the information technology needed to support their offices and maintenance facilities was installed.
- One of the most critical lessons learned during Smart Passport was that newly introduced technology is judged on its ability to work with and enhance the performance of the existing system, regardless of the technology's performance in a stand-alone environment. Successfully introducing a technology when re-engineering an existing system is difficult at best. This task was complicated further by a requirement to introduce the technology simultaneously into several proprietary systems, with the expectation that the same results will be achieved in each system.
- System performance criteria and measures of those criteria need to be defined by the agencies in the planning phase of a program. These system performance requirements must be clearly articulated to the systems integrator/vendor to ensure a specified level of system reliability. For example, a transit agency can establish equipment "up-time" and data reliability performance measures that require the equipment to be operating at least 98% of the time and data generated by the smart card to be 95% accurate. Performance measures are an agency's tool for establishing acceptable levels of performance and monitoring the performance of a system. Additionally, the systems integrator/vendor should articulate to the agency the need for access to equipment and other system components to perform scheduled maintenance and repairs.
- As VCTC moves forward towards implementation of a new program, performance measures will be established and applied so that the contractor's performance can be assessed and the system's performance can be monitored. Examples of performance criteria and measures that VCTC has developed and plans to implement are listed in Table 3. Minimum requirements for data collection processes need to be established in the planning phase of the program.
Reports generated from the Passport system were first received and analyzed in June 1996. The operators reported significant data discrepancies and inaccuracies in the reports. As a result, the information could not be used to evaluate ridership and system performance. Frequent operational and data processing problems contributed to the discrepancies and inaccuracies.
Echelon reported that it is essential to the success of a project that specific performance measures for data collection be articulated to all parties from the outset of the project. The performance criteria and measures that are currently being specified for the new system and program are expected to ensure better data collection processes and more accurate data. These performance measures need to be sufficiently detailed to capture the causal problem. For example, if the on-board system is working, but the card is defective, did the system fail?
- Establish minimum requirements for data collection processes in the planning phase of the program. Reports generated from the Passport system were first received and analyzed in June 1996. The operators reported significant data discrepancies and inaccuracies in the reports. As a result, the information could not be used to evaluate ridership and system performance. Frequent operational and data processing problems contributed to the discrepancies and inaccuracies.
- Echelon reported that it is essential to the success of a project that specific performance measures for data collection be articulated to all parties from the outset of the project. The performance criteria and measures that are currently being specified for the new system and program are expected to ensure better data collection processes and more accurate data. These performance measures need to be sufficiently detailed to capture the causal problem. For example, if the on-board system is working, but the card is defective, did the system fail?
- Establish Reporting requirements that define report formats and the reporting schedule. The operators stated that, in addition to the data discrepancies and inaccuracies, the reports produced by Echelon were too voluminous, too technical, and too infrequent. Delivery of the reports was a contentious issue between Echelon and the operators. The operators reported that it took Echelon several months to satisfy their requests for specific data. Echelon stated that there was a transmission lag between when the reports were sent to VCTC and when VCTC sent them to the operators. Poor communication between Echelon and the transit operators in defining specific reporting requirements contributed to the problems. As the project progressed, however, the operators began articulating specific data reporting requirements to Echelon, and VCTC began working with Echelon to design the appropriate report formats (e.g., card sales/renewals and distribution reports). As this process evolved, the transit operators gained a better understanding of their agency's specific reporting requirements and the importance of defining the requirements early in the project.
- One method for ensuring substantive reports is to involve the transit agencies in designing the report formats during the planning phase of the program. In planning for the new system and program, VCTC has identified the need for the following reports: sales and revenue, bus system performance, and National Transit Database (Section 15). Sales and revenue reports need to calibrate fare card sales and on-bus fare card usage for all sales outlets and agencies. Bus system performance reports must include average daily passenger boarding and alighting by stop, route load profiles, and ridership summaries. As a result of its experience with Smart Passport, VCTC now better understands that frequent (i.e., monthly and quarterly) reports are critical for revenue sharing and passenger data collection, and plans to require the new systems integrator/vendor to produce these reports.
- Clearinghouse and settlement responsibilities need to be specifically designated in the planning phase of the program. Clearinghouse and settlement functions were not included in the initial demonstration project design. After the project began, VCTC established various financial procedures, and assumed the role of clearinghouse. VCTC's financial officer was assigned to manage these tasks in addition to other responsibilities at VCTC.
- Although VCTC was very conscientious in trying to perform the clearinghouse role, frequent system failures and the lack of regular reports hindered its efforts. Additionally, because there was no capability to download information into predefined databases or spreadsheets, VCTCs controller was unable to perform the required financial analysis. Consequently, VCTC and the participating operators agreed to calculate and then redistribute each agency's share of the revenue based on a market share formula.
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