Ensure that staff resources and leadership capabilities are commensurate with the scope and complexity of the project, and will be in place from the beginning of the project.
Ventura County’s experience with an automated transit fare collection system.
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United States

Ventura County Fare Integration: A Case Study


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.

Lessons Learned

Smart Passport did not have sufficient staff to manage the project. No consideration was given to hiring a project manager, data processor, or transactions specialist in the project-planning phase. As the project progressed, the participants quickly realized that VCTC could not manage the project with its existing staff. Caltrans hired a consultant shortly thereafter, but the participants were never fully satisfied with the consultant's work. The consultant's contract was eventually terminated, and the demonstration continued without a project manager. Furthermore, according to the contractor, the participating operators did not fully grasp their need for access to the vehicles for maintenance and collection of data.

Each of these roles contributes significantly to the success of the project. One of the critical lessons learned from Smart Passport is that a multi-agency fare collection system needs a project manager and a data management specialist.

The project manager must ensure that the desired level of communication, coordination, and performance is achieved. The project manager must work proactively with each of the participating agencies, and act as an ombudsman with the systems integrator/vendor to troubleshoot and resolve problems as they arise. It is also easier to maintain cost and budget control if the vendor and systems integrator interface with a project manager as the single point of contact through which instructions and information flow.

A data management specialist is required when an operating agency is serving as the clearinghouse provider because of the tremendous amount of data. The responsibilities include data collection, settlement, and reconciliation of transactional data and the corresponding reporting functions. During the Smart Passport demonstration, the data management specialist, who was VCTC's accountant, also distributed funds to the participating operators. It is unlikely that a data management specialist would normally perform the distribution of funds function.

It is also essential that all participating agencies understand the inherent challenges and opportunities associated with the introduction of new technology. Agency management should provide strong leadership to its staff, and emphasize that the success of the project is an agency-wide priority.

NOTE: See the original document for information on specific staffing requirements for Managerial, Technical and Administrative positions.

Ventura County Fare Integration: A Case Study

Ventura County Fare Integration: A Case Study
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