Port Authority to expand 'smartcard' program

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The Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to 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 Pittsburgh 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 riders purchase monthly passes at the Downtown Pittsburgh center in a typical month. Most riders who buy monthly passes elsewhere will continue to get cardboard passes for the time being.

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 today. Eventually, riders also will be able to renew the cards online using debit or credit cards.

Port Authority is implementing the 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, 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.

In other action, two authority committees authorized purchase of 40 new 60-foot articulated buses for $28 million. When they are delivered in about a year, the authority will have 126 of the longer buses in its fleet, a net increase of 25 after 15 older articulated buses are taken out of service. That will help to ease overcrowding on some routes, CEO Steve Bland said.

homepage - breaking - region - Transportation

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. First Published October 17, 2012 12:30 AM


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