Mississauga gets smart about transit

Mississauga City Council on Thursday said it has approved $4.5 million for the Greater Toronto Area’s first smart card for transit riders, a project the city said will eventually lead to a seamless fare system across municipal

boundaries within the GTA and the downtown core.

The Ontario government is contributing one third of the initial price, which includes capital and ramp-up costs. The province is also investing in 100 per cent of the capital and operating costs for the project’s central system where transit schedules will be stored. The smart card system will cost Mississauga $1.1 million a year to maintain.

Mississauga Transit, which serves 25 million passengers a year, will implement the system on Meadowvale and Cooksville shuttle bus routes to GO Transit stations by 2007 and plans to have the system rolled out to all GTA public transit agencies in the GTA by 2008. The system will be rolled out to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) around 2010, but it will probably be tested out at a couple of stations before that.

Mississauga is currently working with other GTA municipalities including Hamilton, Burlington and Oakville in the west end and Whitby, Oshawa and Ajax in the east to develop a request for proposal (RFP) that will go out to the vendor community in the coming months.

The vendor, which will be responsible for delivering the hardware and software to the GTA agencies, will be selected some time this year, said Thomas Plant, manager of transit business systems for Mississauga Transit.

“The real benefit we saw was to be able to provide seamless transit across the region,” said Plant. “(Smart cards) enhance customer benefits so that you can load value on this card and it can be used in any transit system.”

Canadian governments have been considering smart cards for transit for some time. The City of Toronto Urban Development Services and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, for example, started a program two years ago called Moving the Economy that was studying the feasibility of smart cards in transit. In 2002, the Ontario government scrapped a project to create a multi-application card due to prohibitive costs and privacy concerns.

Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Princeton Junction, N.J.-based Smart Card Alliance, a non-profit organization that promotes the adoption of smart card technology in the U.S., parts of Mexico and Brazil, said transportation authorities around the world are making the switch from paper and token-based fare systems to smart card systems for handling multiple fair schedules and discounts, enhancing security and improving riders’ transit experience.

“We see it as a very significant trend in the transportation industry,” said Vanderhoof. “In the United States 11 major cities have also announced they’re moving away from token systems and paper-based tickets to smart card fare payment systems.” U.S. cities include Washington D.C., San Francisco and Chicago.

Mississauga has looked at these implementations as well as others around the world in Hong Kong, London and Montreal, which is currently the only other Canadian city doing this.

Similarly, Plant said one of the main benefits of the system will be a reduction in fare fraud, which he estimates will be around two per cent less or half a million dollars in savings per year.

“Fare fraud is an ongoing issue,” said Plant, giving the examples of users who split a single double-sided ticket and use it twice. “It’s going to be pretty hard to replicate a microchip.”

Vanderhoof added older transportation payment systems are wearing out and are in need of replacement.

“Rather than continue to invest in new systems based on old technology, many of the transportation organizations are looking at upgrading them to smart cards because they’re recognized as being significantly better for fare collection than the older technology,” he said.

The cards, which will be embedded with a microchip, will cost users $5 and will be available for purchase through various retail channels, including variety stores and larger outlets like the Square One terminal in Mississauga. Customers will also have the option of “loading value” or putting money on the card via the Internet and telephone. Riders will also still be able to purchase transit fares with cash at ticket booths.

“The $5 fee covers cost of producing the card,” said Plant. “Experience has shown if you give away free cards you will have more cards in circulation than there are users.”

Plant added the “contactless” cards, which are waved in front of a reader instead of being fed through a machine, can be more easily found if a rider loses their card.

“If a customer registers with their name, address and personal information if the card is lost they will be able to contact the customer service centre and register the card as lost,” explained Plant, adding the card will be “hot listed” and the customer will be issued a replacement card and reimbursed for the value of the card from when it was lost.

The cards, which are date stamped when passed through the reader, will also be able to detect if a user is transferring to another bus by the amount of time from the start of their journey. This will also help GO authorities, for example, determine if a rider has swiped their card before getting on and off the train to ensure the fare has been paid.

Readers will be located at entrances to subway like turnstiles and at the front of buses.

The transit authorities will also be able to use the data on the cards to collect rider statistics, added Plant.

Mississauga has prided itself as an early adopter of emerging IT products and services, most recently with one of Canada’s first electronic voting projects.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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