Port Authority of Allegheny County considers fare honor system
Fare collection problems caused by heavy weekend ridership have the Port Authority considering an honor system for paying for rides on the T.
So-called proof-of-payment policies are in place at numerous transit systems in the U.S. and Canada and have met with acceptance by riders and operators. A research study has found low percentages of fare evasion and says the method can significantly reduce travel times.
Under such a system, no fares are collected on the vehicles. Riders are required to pay in advance and carry proof of payment when they ride. Police or other agency personnel conduct random checks at various times, and riders who don't have proof of payment face hefty fines.
"It seems more and more clear that we need to take a serious look at this," authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
The authority operated what might have been record levels of extra service on Saturday as major events including a sold-out Pirates game, a Melissa Etheridge concert and the Three Rivers Arts Festival drew throngs to Downtown and the North Shore, Mr. Ritchie said.
When two-car trains are used and off-board fare collection booths are not staffed, as is typical on weekends, it creates a dilemma for operators. They can ask those departing from the second car to step into the lead car to pay their fares but have no good way of dealing with those who disregard such a request.
There also have been occasional reports of operators letting all riders depart from both cars of crowded trains without paying, to avoid excessive delays.
The authority had seven extra vehicles in service on Saturday and ran service from Station Square to the North Shore about every 10 minutes for much of the day, Mr. Ritchie said. "We didn't have any issues. We didn't have mechanical issues. We didn't miss any trips. The thing we heard a little bit about was people not having to pay.
"Our vehicles were basically sardine cans all evening," he said.
In a proof-of-payment system, riders who didn't have monthly or weekly passes (or in the future, a smart card with a positive fund balance) would need to purchase a ticket from a machine before boarding. Smart-card users would tap them at a validator in the stations, off of the vehicle.
During the random checks, riders would be required to produce proof of payment, showing a ticket or pass or furnishing their smart card for scanning with a handheld device that verifies payment.
A survey of 33 public transit agencies this year by the prestigious Transportation Research Board of the National Academies found that 30 used proof-of-payment fare collection for at least one of their modes, usually light rail or rapid bus. Twenty-nine were either not considering changes or planning to implement the policy on a wider scale.
Among the cities that use proof of payment are Baltimore; Buffalo, N.Y.; Charlotte, N.C.; Cleveland; Denver; Houston; San Diego; Seattle; and St. Louis.
The rates at which riders cheated the system ranged from 0.1 to 9 percent, with an average 2.7 percent fare evasion rate, the study found. The average fine imposed for a first offense was $121 and for subsequent offenses $314.
"What most places have found is the threat of having to pay that kind of fine is an effective deterrent" to cheating, Mr. Ritchie said.
The authority frequently gets complaints from riders delayed by long lines at vehicle fareboxes on crowded trips, he said. The problem can be worse on weekends when there are more first-time riders who are unfamiliar with the fares.
Staffing the off-vehicle fare collection booths on the weekends is not practical because the authority needs to devote its available personnel to operating vehicles, Mr. Ritchie said.
The national study concluded that with the proof-of-payment method, "allowing quick multi-door boarding and eliminating on-board fare collection can help shave significant time off a transit vehicle's journey."
The authority is under pressure from county Executive Rich Fitzgerald to speed travel times on the T. It announced last week that 13 lesser-used stops are being eliminated effective June 25.
One change in that plan was announced on Monday: The Hampshire stop in Beechview will be kept open, but the Coast stop in the same neighborhood will be added to the list of those being put out of service.
The change came at the request of community leaders because of the Hampshire stop's proximity to businesses and a senior center, Mr. Ritchie said.
He said there is no timetable for deciding whether to convert to a proof-of-purchase system.
The authority is continuing its transition to a smart-card fare payment system called ConnectCard. A two-month test using 600 volunteers is scheduled for August, to be followed by full implementation.
Bus and rail riders will be able to pay with permanent plastic cards that have embedded computer chips. Riders will tap the cards on the fareboxes, and the amount will be deducted automatically.
They will be able to replenish the value of the cards at vending machines or online. Cash also will continue to be accepted.
First Published June 12, 2012 12:00 am