Port Authority trying to solve ConnectCards glitch

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As more of its riders convert from old-fashioned fare payment to the new smart cards, Port Authority is trying to cure a glitch at vending machines.

The machines seem to work fine at adding value to the cards, but choke at the end of the transactions, either delivering no receipt or giving the user someone else's.

"When a ticket vending machine issues a receipt, the receipt is printed and cut so that it can drop to be retrieved by the customer. What is happening is that the printer is printing and cutting the receipt, but it gets hung up in the drop channel due to the curling of the receipt paper and possibly static electricity," authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

The contractor is testing a modification on 10 machines that includes an anti-static component, he said. If it works, all of the machines will be retrofitted.

The authority has installed 59 vending machines, where riders can either add cash value or renew monthly and weekly passes on their smart cards, called ConnectCards. Forty-eight machines are in service, at stops along the Light Rail Transit system and busways, with the others scheduled to be online by month's end.

For now, the machines do not dispense ConnectCards to first-time customers. Those can be obtained at the Port Authority Service Center on Smithfield Street in Downtown Pittsburgh or at about 50 Giant Eagle stores that sell transit passes.

Users have the option of paying for a monthly or weekly pass, which is then stored on the card and allows unlimited riding, or putting a specific cash amount on the card. (The cash option will not be available at the Downtown service center until April 16.)

Each plastic card has an embedded chip that stores information about what the rider has purchased. When a rider taps the card against the farebox it either acknowledges the rider's weekly or monthly pass or deducts the appropriate fare from the rider's cash balance.

Eventually, riders will be able to buy the cards at vending machines and add value to them online. The authority has no plans, however, to stop accepting cash payment of fares on buses and railcars.

Another milestone in the authority's transition to high-tech fare collection comes this month, with an end to sales of 10-trip ticket books. Those who purchased them are being offered ConnectCards. Previously bought tickets will continue to be accepted on buses and railcars.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1868, or Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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