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.
Work with a systems integrator with a local presence.
The systems integrator (Echelon) for this project was located approximately 100 miles from the demonstration site. The operators reported that they felt the systems integrator was not able to respond quickly to agency needs and emergencies. Additionally, operators reported that the systems integrator scheduled too many appointments during scheduled site visits, and therefore could not sufficiently address and resolve the operator's problems. Moreover, the operators reported that the systems integrator often did not carry the necessary equipment to perform the repairs. Many times the integrator would travel back to the office to find the proper equipment. Consequently, operators became frustrated with the inability of the integrator to provide timely maintenance and technical support.
The systems integrator must have a local presence to effectively service the transit operators. Excessive maintenance response time can negate any potential benefits to be derived from the smart card program. The systems integrator should have an inventory of replacement parts, which are available nearby on a just-in-time basis. It is essential that these expectations be clearly defined in the procurement and reiterated as the project is launched.
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