MBTA Fare System (Charlie, AFC 2.0, Zone, Discounts)

HelloBostonHi

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So here's what they said at the presentation. Without any work the current CharlieCard system dies in 2021. It will apparently lose the ability to accept credit/debit card payments among other end of life failures. Simply put, the software is outdated. So the MBTA is approving some $40M+ to the original CharlieCard developers to push that system over to a "AFC 1.5" that will allow it to continue operating through the full rollout of AFC 2.0.

As for the Fairmont line, they're simply stealing the platform validators from surface level green line stops that literally no one uses and putting them there where it makes far more sense.
 

HelloBostonHi

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Wow. I am so shocked. Wow.

At least the T is finally doing what it could have and should have done years ago: install/equip Charlie readers on the Fairmount Line without waiting for some mythical fairy-tale "AFC 2.0"
It's not though. It's installing existing platform validators from the green line. It's a completely half assed way of doing it and still means no FVMs on the Fairmont line and no transfers to rapid transit. It's a stopgap measure, not a long term solution.
 

jass

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It wasn't a lie. Charlie is obsolete, and phasing the project this way will result in massive costs to rebuild the Charlie system for only two years of use before everything gets replaced. It's massively inefficient. From what I understand, the problem here was that neighborhood politics killed the potential for efficient, wholesale change through endless tinkering and nitpicking.
I distinctly recall them saying they could not longer even order new cards at some point. Now they're going to dispensed from the machines, something that should have happened on day 1. I don't understand why they waited 15 years to add that feature.

Phasing seems to be a lot smarter to do than a "big bang" approach. Thats what the MTA is doing, and they use a system that's 15 years older than Charlie.

As for the Fairmont line, they're simply stealing the platform validators from surface level green line stops that literally no one uses and putting them there where it makes far more sense.
If you go back to the first page, from 2017, thats exactly what I said they should do. Take the proof-of-purchase fare machines they bought for the D-line (AND NEVER USED) and use them.

Also, why would it preclude transfers?

The new timeline is about two years longer than the earlier “big bang” approach, and the T will need to pay an additional $159 million to build out the new Cubic system, and pay Scheidt & Bachmann an extra $43 million, plus $6 million in credit card processing fees, to upgrade the current system and keep it operational for longer. Those costs are on top of the $723 million cost of the 2017 contract with Cubic.
We really need to ask ourselves, as a society, if paying $1bn dollars to collect fares is worth it. Thats about 2 years worth of bus+subway fares.
 

JumboBuc

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There is a whole laundry list of incremental improvements that could be made to the T’s current fare collection system (e.g., card readers on Fairmount Line, rear door card readers on busses and GL trolleys, vending machines that sell Charlie Cards – not tickets – for a few bucks, fare gates on the D line where appropriate, etc.). We’ve all known about these improvements for years (decades?) but the T has consciously decided not to make any improvements to its fare collection system and instead wait out for the white whale “AFC 2.0” that would reinvent the payment system as we know it, solve all of our problems, and become a mainstay of future business school case study curricula. Surprisingly (or not) the cost and timeframe of this mythical beast keeps getting larger with every passing year, and in the meantime zero improvements are made to anything fare collection-related anywhere in the system.

Now the T is finally acknowledging that many of the known low-hanging-fruit fare collection improvements are not, in fact, contingent on a grand system redesign, and can be implemented with currently available technology. So the agency is going to go ahead and start implementing demanded improvements under the current system with provisions to make them compatible with a future system, without waiting for that future system to come first.

This looks to me like the right decision today. It also would have been the right decision about ten years ago, but I guess you can’t go back and change the past.
 

jass

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Maybe not the right thread for this...

But considering MBTA buses primarily feed into the subway, it could make sense to simply remove fare collection from the buses and only collect fares at rapid transit stations.

This was the logic behind the Staten Island Ferry in NYC being free. Basically that 95% of users are transferring to the subway and paying, so why bother collecting?

This would cut the cost of procurement (which is looking to be 2-3 collection points per vehicle) and all the associated maintenance of a fare collection system that's always on the move.

This would also allow all-door boarding on buses, without the negative side-effects associated with targeted fare enforcement.

Under this idea, you would still collect fares on express bus routes that do not feed into the subway, but offer direct trips downtown.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Maybe not the right thread for this...

But considering MBTA buses primarily feed into the subway, it could make sense to simply remove fare collection from the buses and only collect fares at rapid transit stations.

This was the logic behind the Staten Island Ferry in NYC being free. Basically that 95% of users are transferring to the subway and paying, so why bother collecting?

This would cut the cost of procurement (which is looking to be 2-3 collection points per vehicle) and all the associated maintenance of a fare collection system that's always on the move.

This would also allow all-door boarding on buses, without the negative side-effects associated with targeted fare enforcement.

Under this idea, you would still collect fares on express bus routes that do not feed into the subway, but offer direct trips downtown.
BERy hubs operated this way, with the busway/trolleyway behind fare control at the big rapid transit transfer nodes. You still see a half-measure vestige of this surviving at Harvard with the funky fare collection practice on the TT routes.

But BERy maintained a lot of integrity-of-concept in the way it designed transfer nodes that way for consistent practice across the system. Such adherence to best practices pretty much went out the door when the MTA took over, such that transfer handling had already degraded into a hodgepodge by the time the MBTA took over. It's so forgotten to the sands of time at this point that you'd probably just get blank stares explaining to a higher-up that this was indeed a fare collection & transfer S.O.P. for 50 years in Boston. The new & renovated station facilities with their anti-consistency in design to bus/rapid transfer ease of passage (see: Ashmont post-reconfiguration where the once dead-easy trolley/Red Line transfer got broken out of fare control) then ended up pouring cement over the attitudinal rot.

I'm not sure how one starts rolling that back into a more natural interface that can be done consistent systemwide. It definitely requires playing the long game when it comes to improving transfer stations that have busways as inconveniently and afterthoughtedly detached from their transfer pipe as humanly possible. But something should be dawning that over-customizing themselves to freedom has no viable endgame except biting their own arses from overcomplication. Efficient fare collection is a practice as much as it is a back-end system of cash transaction. More emphasis on the former probably could've saved them a ton of grief on the singular overreliance on one-vendor technology for the latter.
 

jass

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^ I was definitely thinking about Harvard, and how simply moving the fare gates would allow people to pay to enter the station and board any vehicle, regardless of mode. All-door boarding would allow the buses to get out quickly. Sometimes you have a 77 with 30 people in line to board holding up the 5 other buses that are ready to go.

In modern practice, Silver Line at South Station was built this way.

An easy place to start would probably be something like the Alewife routes. What percentage of bus riders are starting or ending their trip at Alewife? One dude, maybe? Everybody else is coming or going to the Red Line. Sure, having people tap on the bus gives us ridership numbers, but you can get the same data from cameras.


One thing I havent heard the MBTA address is what a PoP system would look like for them in terms of enforcement strategy.

If it's like the NYC SBS routes where 7 police officers board a bus - and hold it in place for 5 minutes while they check fares - it will be a failure. If it turns into a situation where the enforcers spend 95% of their time on the bus routes that originate in Dudley and never venture into Arlington, it will be a failure and a lawsuit.

Another worst case scenario is where we spend a billion to get the technology, and then have to massively increase labor costs for enforcement. IE, if the commuter rail moves to PoP with zero changes to staffing, then we're just flushing money down the drain.

We're in an interesting space where you have some systems, like SF move to PoP at the very same time cities like LA move away from PoP. Both have their pros and cons, and a lot of it depends on how management structures it all.
 

JeffDowntown

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You know, I'm not sure the 7 officers boarding a bus (train, etc.) scenario is a failure. That is the model for PoP in Europe. Word gets out pretty quickly when a train full of scofflaws get busted for $100 fines. Repeat offenders go to jail (in Germany at least).
 

HelloBostonHi

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Also, why would it preclude transfers?
A. Because they specifically said at the meeting it will not include transfers
B. Because the system is set up such that tapping on these fare validator machines is identical to tapping on any fare gate in the rapid transit system. And as with any fare gate, you don't get transfers to another fare gate because that would encourage people to hand their pass back across the barrier and tap again, or in the case of platform validators have people just tapping multiple times to get multiple tickets for friends.

It does include bus transfers, the same way any other fare gate included bus transfers. But the technical limitations of a tap on only system remain and the current Charlie system simply cannot and does not support rapid transit to rapid transit transfers outside of fare gates. It's something you can implement in the Cubic system, London does it and it's known as an Out of Station Interchange (OSI), basically if you tap out of one rapid transit and into a certain other one nearby in a certain amount of time then it counts as one ride.

As for enforcement, the original goal was MBTA employees (non-police and generally just one) boarding a bus while in motion and moving through and checking everyone while the bus goes about it's route, the same way it's done in London. And since they check with handheld card readers that ping a server and keep logs of every single fare check, they had plans to ensure every route was checked evenly.

Also it's about more than fare collection, the data the T could collect with a correctly implemented tap in tap out AFC2 is an absolute gold mine for service planning. Knowing exactly where trips are being taken, where they're starting and where they're transferring and ending is a fantastic amount of data to help plan future service. Currently the system shows station entries and basically nothing else beyond inference via the ODX system about where people may have gone based on future taps.
 

George_Apley

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You know, I'm not sure the 7 officers boarding a bus (train, etc.) scenario is a failure. That is the model for PoP in Europe. Word gets out pretty quickly when a train full of scofflaws get busted for $100 fines. Repeat offenders go to jail (in Germany at least).
Usually the vehicles are moving during the Black Rider checks. At least in my experience. If everyone's commute is halted for the PoP check, that's a failure.
 

jass

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You know, I'm not sure the 7 officers boarding a bus (train, etc.) scenario is a failure. That is the model for PoP in Europe. Word gets out pretty quickly when a train full of scofflaws get busted for $100 fines. Repeat offenders go to jail (in Germany at least).
The NYC failure is that they hold the bus in place while the inspection happens.
 

jass

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A. Because they specifically said at the meeting it will not include transfers
B. Because the system is set up such that tapping on these fare validator machines is identical to tapping on any fare gate in the rapid transit system. And as with any fare gate, you don't get transfers to another fare gate because that would encourage people to hand their pass back across the barrier and tap again, or in the case of platform validators have people just tapping multiple times to get multiple tickets for friends.

It does include bus transfers, the same way any other fare gate included bus transfers. But the technical limitations of a tap on only system remain and the current Charlie system simply cannot and does not support rapid transit to rapid transit transfers outside of fare gates.
How is it handled at Ashmont? Isnt that a subway-subway transfer in regards to fares?

I believe SL3 is a subway fare, but it allows transfer to the Blue Line at Airport. How did they manage this?

As for enforcement, the original goal was MBTA employees (non-police and generally just one) boarding a bus while in motion and moving through and checking everyone while the bus goes about it's route, the same way it's done in London. And since they check with handheld card readers that ping a server and keep logs of every single fare check, they had plans to ensure every route was checked evenly.
This is the right way to do this if they decide which route to inspect with a truly random system, and not targeting minority areas.

IE: Inspector pushes a button and is told that today their job is route 94.

Also it's about more than fare collection, the data the T could collect with a correctly implemented tap in tap out AFC2 is an absolute gold mine for service planning. Knowing exactly where trips are being taken, where they're starting and where they're transferring and ending is a fantastic amount of data to help plan future service. Currently the system shows station entries and basically nothing else beyond inference via the ODX system about where people may have gone based on future taps.
Modern technology allows this to be done using only cameras.
 

HelloBostonHi

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How is it handled at Ashmont? Isnt that a subway-subway transfer in regards to fares?

I believe SL3 is a subway fare, but it allows transfer to the Blue Line at Airport. How did they manage this?
That's a very fair point, looks like you're right on both accounts there. In which case it's likely not a technical limitation, which does leave me wondering why not do it
 

F-Line to Dudley

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The NYC failure is that they hold the bus in place while the inspection happens.
Yeah, that's an NYC transit cop problem more than an indictment of the general practice. It doesn't have to be disruptive unless your own internal dept. policies are so arbitrary and inflexible that hosing service with a full stoppage is just blindly following orders. Second Ave. Sagas blog has done a lot of coverage of the MTA's blunt-force approach to selective fare enforcement and utter senselessness of their in-house mentality towards it. It's no doubt a balancing act to execute such inspections while keeping service moving clog-free, but done mindfully there's dozens of different approaches to making it work that could work well in-practice. NYC, unfortunately, willfully chooses to make itself the poster child for doing it with pants affixed firmly to head.
 

sm89

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What I found weird is that there was no mention of free transit being an option. Aside from the upfront cost of the fare system and professional services that would no longer be needed, what other savings would the T experience that could offset the "loss" from fare income? For example the counting room operations, armored cars, processing fees, other staff, technology, buses with no fare machines, station gate maintenance, cheaper station construction costs, etc. The T would still have income in the form of parking, advertising, etc. Is this being explored?
 

HelloBostonHi

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What I found weird is that there was no mention of free transit being an option. Aside from the upfront cost of the fare system and professional services that would no longer be needed, what other savings would the T experience that could offset the "loss" from fare income? For example the counting room operations, armored cars, processing fees, other staff, technology, buses with no fare machines, station gate maintenance, cheaper station construction costs, etc. The T would still have income in the form of parking, advertising, etc. Is this being explored?
What about the increase in security spending and overcrowding that would come with free fare? I could support free fares on underutilized bus routes, but struggle to see how anyone benefits from free fares on already overcapacity rapid transit lines. Having even a nominal fare encourages people to consider other peak commuting options like cycling and gives a financial incentive. Also having an enforced fare and fare gates keeps stations somewhat safer at night/off peak.
 

jass

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What about the increase in security spending and overcrowding that would come with free fare? I could support free fares on underutilized bus routes, but struggle to see how anyone benefits from free fares on already overcapacity rapid transit lines. Having even a nominal fare encourages people to consider other peak commuting options like cycling and gives a financial incentive. Also having an enforced fare and fare gates keeps stations somewhat safer at night/off peak.
Thats why I think it might be valuable to make buses free and charge for rail trips only. Then you completely eliminate the need to have fare infrastructure outside of actual stations.

The problem with the approach the MBTA is doing is that theyre saying "we want exactly what we have now, but newer"

When Charlie came on, the MBTA actually did look at some outdated practices, like exit fares on the red line or "premium" fares (D-line) and did away with them. Unfortunately, they also did some really stupid things like starting to charge for outbound green line trains + mandating single door opening.

I think they should be doing the same here. Take a good hard look at what is actually needed.
 

Ruairi

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I presume it's out there but has anyone done a comparison of the cost off fare collection (both capital and ongoing) vs the revenue generated from fares? For just the subway, and for the subway and bus system for, say, the next 20 years?
 

Equilibria

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What I found weird is that there was no mention of free transit being an option. Aside from the upfront cost of the fare system and professional services that would no longer be needed, what other savings would the T experience that could offset the "loss" from fare income? For example the counting room operations, armored cars, processing fees, other staff, technology, buses with no fare machines, station gate maintenance, cheaper station construction costs, etc. The T would still have income in the form of parking, advertising, etc. Is this being explored?
The MBTA has $694M in fares in its 2020 budget. Advertising is $30M, parking is $45M, and real estate is $22M. They'd be foregoing 86% of their operating revenue and 33% of the revenue in their operating budget (the lion's share of the rest comes from dedicated sales tax).

The only way you can make transit free is by levying a big tax on people who don't use transit (or live in the MBTA service area), even more than we already do.
 

jass

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The MBTA has $694M in fares in its 2020 budget. Advertising is $30M, parking is $45M, and real estate is $22M. They'd be foregoing 86% of their operating revenue and 33% of the revenue in their operating budget (the lion's share of the rest comes from dedicated sales tax).

The only way you can make transit free is by levying a big tax on people who don't use transit (or live in the MBTA service area), even more than we already do.
I think its important to look at that revenue by service type.

Offering free bus service makes more sense than free commuter rail service. Especially because the cost of fare collection on commuter rail is minimal, since it relied on tech from the 1880s.
 

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