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.
During the Smart Passport program, each transit agency continued to set its own fare policy while offering both the existing monthly pass and the stored value Smart Passport passes. Unfortunately, SCAT would not consent to lowering the price of the monthly Passport, making the SCAT pass more competitive. (Table 3 compares the Smart Passport prices with SCAT pass prices.) Thus, customers who traveled on SCAT lines had little incentive to purchase the Smart Passport, other than its stored-value feature. Although VCTC wanted fare parity, it was more important to secure SCATs participation in the program.
New fare media programs must be competitive with existing pass programs to attract enough of the transit population to make the program viable. Therefore, the participating agencies should establish a competitive pricing structure for the multi-agency program.
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