TTC moves customers towards kiosks

The Toronto Transit Commission is piloting the use of kiosks that allow customers to purchase their monthly pass using their debit cards.

The TTC signed a $1.4 million dollar contract with IBM Canda Ltd. in September 2003 for the design, development, supply and rollout of 10 Metropass vending machines (called PVM, or pass vending machines for short). The decision to purchase the automated machines came after transit surveys that showed customers want a faster and more efficient way to buy fare media. Nearly two million Metropasses were sold in 2002 alone.

“We’ve been looking for several years for ways to make it easier for people to purchase our passes,” said Vince Rodo, general manager, executive branch, TTC. “It used to be that all you could do is buy a monthly pass at a ticket agent, variety stores or ticket collectors.”

In January, the TTC installed the first PVM at Finch station and has since put another machine at Finch and a third one at Eglinton. The latter two PVMs, however, are currently not in operation but the TTC plans to get them up and running by next month. The TTC has not decided where the remaining seven machines will be installed.

Up until now, TTC passengers who regularly buy a Metropass have only been able to do so at TTC collector booths, select variety stores or ticket agents. Ten years ago, the TTC introduced a program called the Metropass Discount Plan, which automatically deducts the price of a pass from the customer’s bank account and mails them a pass each month. More recently, the TTC launched the Volume Incentive Plan (VIP) for employers who buy passes for their employees in bulk and distribute them to employees.

So far, the kiosk at Finch has received a 92 per cent approval rating, according to a recent survey conducted by the TTC. The survey, however, also showed that some passengers had issues regarding the PIN pad location and its configuration, which differs slightly from the traditional bank machine set up.

Aside from the debit card functionality, the machines also feature remote communication and monitoring capabilities, allowing the TTC’s IT staff to manage the machines from one central location. The TTC added the machines onto its existing network management tool, Computer Associate’s Unicenter, said John Cannon, the TTC’s chief information officer.

“We need to have communication on the status of the machine for troubleshooting,” said Cannon, adding that the TTC is also considering using VoIP on the machines.

“We’re exploring using a VoIP application since it is on our network with our data lines there,” he said. “That was something we hadn’t anticipated at the beginning.”

As for future uses of the terminals, TTC will be looking at how to integrate them with the GTA Farecard, which is intended for use on transit systems from Hamilton in the southwest to Durham region in the east, starting as early as next year.

“We’re working with the province determining the overall requirements of the whole group,” said Cannon. “We are at the table with the other GTA partners and we’re also doing our own business requirement assessment right now.” Partners include GO Transit and York Region Transit.

The TTC has a mixed track record with IT projects. During the Y2K crisis it managed to overhaul a legacy time and expense system and replace it with product called Time Machine to keep track of its planners, project managers, engineers and clerical staff. Two years ago, however, a botched software upgrade caused its computer system to crash, making it impossible for subway trains to be given the proper signals and stranding passengers.

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