The days of the “honesty” fare system aboard the Buffalo subway system will end in about two years as Metro Rail adopts state-of-the-art electronics accepting everything from cash to smart cards, and featuring traditional turnstiles for the first time in its 30-year history.
Commissioners of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority unanimously approved two contracts totaling almost $18 million on Thursday, which also will result in equally advanced fare boxes on Metro Bus vehicles.
NFTA officials have talked for several years about replacing the system that has served Metro Rail since its inception, relying on infrequent checks by ticket inspectors riding underground trains. They say that system worked fairly well, with a fare evasion rate of less than 3 percent. Thursday’s action now marks the first concrete step toward implementing the new turnstile technology.
“Even though we face financial challenges, we continue to put money into upgrading our system,” said NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel.
While the new technology does not stem from any disappointment in the honesty system, it will allow for a host of advantages like faster boarding times, better tracking of ridership data and finances, and advantages to customers who can use credit cards and a variety of mobile devices as they continue to develop.
“I really can’t say the honesty system didn’t work,” said Thomas George, NFTA director of surface transportation. “But this will provide us with great financial data and better customer service.”
It also allows for improved management of contracts negotiated with third-party entities like Social Services, schools and companies with NFTA ridership agreements.
An employee of a downtown company that negotiates deals with the NFTA could simply tap his identification card against an electronic sensor at a vending machine, George explained, providing a swipe card to be used at the turnstile. The system also could work with bar codes on cellphones or other modes.
He added that he envisions traditional and more durable “baseball stadium”-type turnstiles, as opposed to the “arms” familiar to riders of the New York City subway.
NFTA staff pointed out that the new technology will serve both bus and rail commuters, further integrating a system with many differences between the two operations. Fare boxes on Metro Buses are also now 14 years old, Minkel said, and approaching the end of their useful lives.
“They have become a high-maintenance item and are obsolete,” she said, “as they have never been able to recognize different currency denominations.”
She also said the new system is expected to be able to adapt to all sorts of existing and even future payment technologies.
“It’s difficult because technology is changing so quickly, and that’s our fear,” she said.
But George said the new system will be able to adapt.
“Many products are going to be available, and that’s the beauty of it,” he said.
A $16.4 million contract was awarded to Scheidt & Bachmann USA for design and construction services, while Louis T. Klauder and Associates won a separate $1.4 million contract for design support and construction monitoring.
George said he hopes the new system will be phased in over a relatively short period by late 2016, and spring of 2017 at the latest.