The Port Authority will begin the next phase of its conversion to smartcard fare collections next month, when it will start issuing the new cards to some monthly pass purchasers.
Starting Nov. 16, riders who buy December monthly passes at the Downtown service center will get new plastic cards called ConnectCards instead of cardboard passes. Rather than showing a pass to the operator, they will tap the new card against a spot on the farebox to verify that the pass is valid. There is no additional charge for the card, and the cost of monthly passes will not change.
About 6,800 of the 15,000 riders who buy monthly passes typically do so at the Downtown center. Most riders who buy monthly passes elsewhere will continue to get cardboard passes for the time being, although there is a chance that a couple of Giant Eagle outlets might join the program next month.
Once a ConnectCard is issued, a rider can renew it Downtown or at one of about 30 vending machines that have been installed at stations and stops. The number of vending machines on the system will increase to 58 by March 31, project manager Tom Noll told an authority committee Wednesday. Eventually, riders also will be able to renew the cards online using debit or credit cards.
The new cards have another advantage over passes, tickets and cash: If they are lost or stolen, Port Authority will replace them at full value, if the buyer has registered the card with the authority. Registration allows the authority to cancel the lost card and issue a new one, but is not required. Unregistered cards won't be replaced if lost.
The authority is implementing the ConnectCard conversion in phases in hopes of reducing confusion and technical problems. So far, about 40,000 University of Pittsburgh students and employees, 660 annual pass customers and 360 riders who participated in pilot testing have received the new technology.
When the conversion is complete sometime next year, cardholders will be able to opt for unlimited rides for a week or month -- similar to buying weekly or monthly passes -- or load a cash balance into the card and have individual fares automatically deducted whenever they ride.
No timetable has been set for adding weekly pass customers, 10-trip ticket purchasers or those who buy passes at other retail outlets to the ConnectCard program.
Authority officials expect the $32 million conversion to increase convenience for riders, reduce fare evasion, give them more precise ridership data and reduce the need for employees to handle and count currency and coins.