The new T bus/trolley fareboxes are a complete disaster

When the German company Scheidt & Bachmann was awarded the contract from the MBTA to install the new AFC (Automatic Fare Collection) equipment back in 2003 ( after it was delayed by a lawsuit by another bidder Cubic Transportation Systems of San Diego there was one little problem but the company assured the T it would not be an issue. The company had never built a farebox for a bus and had to design one from scratch. The company had a great deal of experience in building ticket vending machines and was partners with a company in Belgium (Automatic-Systems) that would design and build the fare gates. This is no small matter as the fareboxes consisted a major part of the entire contract numbering some 1600 units. Scheidt & Bachmann decided they could build a better farebox themselves.

This document is an overview of all the transit contracts Scheidt & Bachmann have done worldwide. The Boston contract info can be viewed at Page 33 of this PDF file. The Boston project is by far the largest contract they have had that is transit related.

Well they went to work and by January 2005 the new farebox was ready to be tested on the Silver Line. On the company website they gush about their new design…

The Farebox is a miniature Fare Vending Machine designed for buses and trolleys. Sleek and rugged, it allows customer to pay by coin, tokens, bills, magnetic swipe tickets, stored value tickets and or smart cards. The bus or trolley driver also has a display/control console that allows them to manage the fare, zone, patron category, etc. The driver can also view bills/banknotes that are presented for payment into the Farebox that the Farebox considers suspicious and then accept or reject them. At the end of a shift when the driver returns to the garage, all of the transaction data is then downloaded through a secure wireless network. This provides the Transit Authority to verify the shift’s transactions match the revenue that is stored in the Farebox’s vaults.
Ok that sounds good. So the test began and by all accounts it was a disaster. The Boston Globe reported back in
June of 2005 that the boxes would be redesigned. The Globe quoted Stephen Berrang, the T’s assistant general manager who is supervising the Automated Fare Collection project. ”We’ve been working on this for five years, and they are showing us things that we hadn’t expected. We are correcting them.” The redesigned fare box will feature a smaller coin slot, one similar to that of a food or beverage vending machine. This should eliminate the problem of riders trying to throw their coins down the existing slot all at once, Berrang said.

After reading that I question if Mr. Berrang has ever ridden a bus in his life. Riders have been throwing money into fareboxes all at once since public transit began. The last thing a bus or trolley operator wants is a line of people waiting to get on the vehicle. But that is exactly what has happened and since the new fareboxes went into service on the Green Line you have seen trains delayed 5 or more minutes at a stop on the Riverside line. What makes this even more laughable is the company the T didn’t choose Cubic just happens to have a nifty high tech farebox that counts 10 coins PER SECOND. Just browsing through the list of companies that do make fareboxes you can see that the T had many, many options that were better including a box from the company that made their old farebox equipment GFI.

The T bought the GFI fareboxes that were just replaced in the mid 1990’s after a
major fare theft operation was discovered at the T and the one major complaint riders had about them was they were unable to accept dollar bills. That wasn’t GFI’s fault that is what the T ordered. To save money on the farebox contract the T decided not to get the dollar bill option that GFI offered. Instead the T decided that riders could put dollar bills into a slot on the side of the farebox. It is impossible to calculate how much revenue the T lost from this idea as untold dollar bills were shredded trying to get them out of the farebox.

Pictured on the left is the GFI farebox the Chicago Transit Authority bought at the same time the T bought theirs in the 1980’s. Notice that on the right is a slot for dollar bills that slides down into the box so the driver can verify that it is a dollar. No optical scanner that will spit back a dollar it doesn’t like. Fares are collected on CTA buses using GFI Genfare fareboxes that were purchased in 1986. The equipment accepts both dollar bills and coins. An extension from Cubic Transportation Systems was added to the side of the fareboxes in the mid-90s to allow for the processing of magnetic strip transit cards and the Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus smart cards.
In 2005, the CTA initiated a “Go Lane” pilot program on its newer, low floor buses. On a Go Lane bus, the Chicago Card/Chicago Card Plus sensor is relocated opposite the driver. This configuration allows for two customers to board and pay fares simultaneously, thus speeding up the boarding process. I have used this “Go Lane” feature on buses on Michigan Avenue and it cuts boarding in half. The Globe mentioned this in a Starts and Stops column earlier in December and wondered if the T planned to offer something similar.

We then flash-backed to an e-mail sent last month from Barry of Quincy, who recently rode the 151 Sheridan bus to Michigan Avenue in Chicago. “What caught my attention were all the people boarding who did not swipe a smart card at the fare box,” he wrote. “Instead, these people with Chicago Cards entered the bus, and waved their cards at a round sensor located across from the driver, mounted before the first seat on the right hand side of the bus.

“So . . . while some passengers were paying with cash, or inserting fare cards at the traditional fare box, at least half of the people waved their Chicago cards and went quickly on board. This way, two passengers were able to pay their fares at the same time.”

The T has no plans to do this. Beautiful!!!

BTW there is a very well done website about the Chicago bus system at www.ctabus.com The Chicago Transit Authority which may be more political than the T is lightyears ahead of Boston on services like bus tracking. The CTA decided to use a company called Clever Devices to monitor all bus operations. After testing Clever Devices in Boston a few years ago the T instead gave the contract to Siemens.

These boxes from Scheidt & Bachmann are breaking down at an alarming rate and they are only a few months old. The drivers by and large despise them because of the delays in boarding because riders have to put in each coin one at a time. The transit industry in North America isn’t rushing out to buy these boxes either. Only one other transit system has bought these boxes and that was Phoenix one year ago. In fact looking at the company website they haven’t sold anything in 2006 and the site has been updated to show they will be at a transit trade show in 2007.

The jury is still out on the new faregates in the subway. At least Scheidt & Bachmann decided to use a company based in Belgium to design and build the gates. The company Automatic Control Systems does have a proven track record in building fare gates . The company gushed in a press release “Boston ‘T’ Metro : a huge contract” Originally the T ordered the following

MBTA ordered 450 tripod turnstiles, 175 high-speed gates with flaps and 50 full-height turnstiles (single and double), for the metro and railways stations of the MBTA. The first prototypes will be delivered at the end of November 2003. The first installation is due to take place in July 2004. The balance will be progressively installed until June 2005.

Turnstyles?? Instead of those high flap gates that sometimes balk at letting you out of a station. What happened??? Well the company issued another press release in 2006 titled “biggest contract ever signed by Automatic Control Systems” and explains that the T changed the order to the gate system instead of turnstyles. The only reason I can think of why the T did this was to crack down on turnstyle jumpers.

At the very start, Automatic Systems received an order for 450 Tripod Turnstiles, 175 High-Speed Gates and 50 Full-Height Turnstiles (one and two walkways).

But the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority), very concerned both by the security and safety of the passengers, and also preoccupied by the system profitability and fight against fraud, chose a better solution and decided to replace the original tripod turnstiles by high-speed gates, bringing the ordered quantity from 175 high speed gates to 643, totalling 19 different configurations.

Why the T decided on Scheidt & Bachmann instead of Cubic is known only at the top levels of 10 Park Plaza. While Boston would have been a large contract for them it probably would not have been as challenging for them as their contracts in New York, Chicago, and London to name 3. This webpage from Cubic shows they offer everything the T needed and the experience of other major projects. I’m sure if Cubic had gotten the contract there would have been issues but they do have the track record. But as usual track records don’t count with the T. Just look at the Breda streetcars and the Siemens Blue Line cars ( oh wait they not here yet )

At least the faregates work which we can not say about the fareboxes. Those sadly we are stuck with.

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6 Comments

Filed under Bus, CharlieCard, CharlieTicket, Cubic, Fare Vending Machines, Green Line, MBTA, Scheidt-Bachmann, transit other cities

6 responses to “The new T bus/trolley fareboxes are a complete disaster

  1. Let’s be fair to the T management. They did an excellent job for a bunch of incompetent fucking idiots.

  2. Cheryl in Chicago

    The Chicago cards don’t really work that way. I have one. If there is someone paying cash or using one of the cardboard fare cards on the bus, I have to wait to wave my Chicagocard in the direction of the thing that reads the plastic cards. Also, in the four years I have had my Chicagocard, I’ve gone through 8 of them. If–or actually, when–they crack, they’re useless and have to be replaced. That takes a minimum of 3 days.

  3. not being from Boston originally, I’m not a complaining bastard.

    Sure, Scheidt & Bachman may be new at this, but much of the blame must be placed on the MBTA’s internal engineer’s who gave inadequate information and feedback to S&B and chose poor operating practices as their goal system.

    Much like MBTA’s decision to not purchase the GFI dollar bill reader, the S&B machines were designed to specifications and requirements given them by the MBTA.

    Could the MBTA have demanded a seperate RFID reader able to be remotely placed across from the machine so riders with Card’s could quickly board? Yes.
    Could they not have also then had such a system designed for the back doors on the Green line so Card holders could board these doors instead and just tap their card on the way in? Yes.
    Could the MBTA have demanded a coin reader that could accurately count 10 coins a second? Yes.

    Place blame on the MBTA for not addressing the system as it is used by the riders and creating a new solution around them and instead trying to force the riders into their way of thinking.

    That said, anyone who lives in or near Boston has no excuse to not have a CharlieCard, and has no excuse to not put a few $ on it. The card is free, offers cheaper fares, and can have its stored value increased at any T stop or on any Bus. Even if you ride the MBTA infrequently there is no reason NOT to have one in your wallet.

  4. Anonymous

    This is the same anon as above. I checked and it turns out I got my friend’s story wrong, misremembered from a conversation months ago what was the company and what was us having dinner and just ragging on the fare boxes. The company wasn’t that incredulous when they met with him, they just thought my friend was offering an intelligent user critique and had the tech skills to match. Which in the end shows they maybe have more smarts than the MBTA – the more I learn the more I am convinced the true fault lies with the T itself for nixing the company’s previous versions of the box and not trying to learn from other cities. Would you mind deleting my old comment? I don’t like keeping misinformation out there in my name… even anonymously (I don’t use blogger).

  5. I don’t like keeping misinformation out there in my name… even anonymously (I don’t use blogger).

    done

  6. Anonymous

    @Fenway: Thank you!

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