There’s a new fare collection system on Capital District Transportation Authority buses, one the authority says will give it new flexibility — like paying for the bus by smartphone — in the future.
The new electronic “Fast Fare” fare boxes have been installed on all 233 CDTA or Northway XPress buses over the last few weeks, as the central component of a $9.5 million collection system upgrade.
“The technology we want to be able to offer our customers wasn’t available [with the old system],” said CDTA Chief Executive Officer Carm Basile. “This is what customers say they want.”
The new system, after a few months of in-service testing, will allow CDTA to start offering riders more options for paying or pre-paying bus fares, other than the current 30-day Swiper cards, which offer unlimited rides for a month’s time.
Smart card transactions, ticketing by mobile device, point of sale terminals and mobile transaction processing will all be possible as the new system becomes established over the next 18 months.
“Eventually, we will be able to offer new fare products,” Basile said, or even offer tailored special discounts.
The previous fare collection boxes were 20 years old, and were suffering from the wear and tear of having dollar bills and coins stuffed into them day in and day out, increasing maintenance costs.
That led the CDTA board in 2013 to award a contract for a new system to SPX Genfare of Elk Grove, Ill., the same company that made the previous system and one of five that submitted bids. A federal grant is paying $5.5 million of the cost.
The fare collection upgrade is taking place as CDTA is seeing record ridership levels. During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the authority bus fleet saw just under 16.5 million riders, breaking a 30-year-old record.
The standard bus fare is $1.50, though the BusPlus rapid transit service between Albany and Schenectady — which has proven very popular — costs $2 per trip.
Last year, about 26 percent of all boardings were paid for with a Swiper card, and 23 percent were from CDTA’s “universal access” agreements with local colleges, which let students with proper ID ride for free. But 43 percent of riders used cash or a day pass purchased with cash.
“Already we do a significant amount of pre-pay,” Basile said. “It’s trending up.”
He said one of the main immediate benefits for riders should be quicker boardings at bus stops, since the new machines will accept dollar bills more readily that the old machines, which have jammed more often as they got older.
New system features will be rolled out slowly, with full implementation by late 2015. “For the next few months, we will be evaluating to be sure it is recording accurate information, and accurately counting boardings,” Basile said in an interview at his office in Albany.
He said tests of paying fares with smart card technology should start later this year, and that will eventually lead to replacing the 30-day Swiper card system with customized cards.
“With the new system, you will manage your own account, you’ll decide how to use the rides,” Basile said.
He said those accounts will be similar to how the EZPass system works on the state Thruway, with customers paying a set amount to use for travel as they wish.
The new fare machines can accept bills as large as a $20, and while they won’t issue change, they will issue a receipt that can be used like cash for future trips, said Mike Bruno, CDTA’s treasury supervisor.
“It’s going to make my life a lot easier, especially down the road,” he said.
A video promoting the new collection system is expected to be available on the CDTA website in the immediate future, CDTA spokeswoman Jaime Watson said.
“This is all designed to make the system more inviting, more enticing, easier to use,” Basile said.