Port Authority has begun installing new fareboxes on its 83 Light Rail Transit vehicles as it continues preparing for conversion to a smart card fare collection system.
The rail vehicles are the last in the authority's fleet to get the new boxes, and installation is expected to be completed by the end of May, spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
When the project is fully implemented next year, bus and rail riders will be able to pay with permanent plastic cards that have embedded computer chips. Riders will tap the cards on a target on the fareboxes and the amount will be automatically deducted.
They will be able to replenish the value of the cards at vending machines or online. Cash also will continue to be accepted.
Mr. Ritchie said transfers are a special concern with the new fareboxes on rail vehicles. The authority is urging riders who want them to tell the operator before they insert their money. If they don't, the driver might hit an incorrect button and cause a delay in the transaction.
Another change is for users of tickets -- the new boxes don't accept them because they will be phased out when the smart card program is launched. The authority wants riders to hand the tickets to the operators.
Also, the new fareboxes treat worn and damaged currency just as vending machines do, spitting them right back.
"We impact a large number of riders all at once with this," Mr. Ritchie said of the rail farebox conversion. "Twenty-five thousand riders a day are going to be noticing this and dealing with this. We expect there are going to be issues. We know it's going to be tricky at first."
He said the authority has not experienced the types of major problems that plagued the installation of new fareboxes on buses. The agency suspended the program twice last year because currency was causing them to jam.
The authority in January unveiled the brand name of the new smart cards: ConnectCards.
After all the fareboxes are installed, the authority will build the infrastructure for ConnectCard vending machines and start a public education program, followed by pilot testing and distribution of the first cards.
"We're going to be out at a lot of public events raising awareness that the smart card transition is coming toward the end of the year," Mr. Ritchie said.
He said the new collection system remains on track for full implementation by March.
The $32 million project is designed to improve collections and provide valuable new data about ridership, while offering greater convenience to customers. Federal funding is covering 80 percent of the cost and state funding 16.7 percent.
Other transit agencies in the region are expected to participate in the conversion.