It won't be too much longer before paper tickets and cardboard passes are a thing of the past on Port Authority buses and rail vehicles, replaced by plastic smart cards called ConnectCards.
Authority officials are hoping the same will be said of counterfeiting, a problem that has persisted even as fewer and fewer riders are being issued the paper and cardboard fare instruments.
Police last week charged a Morgantown, W.Va., woman with fraud and multiple counts of forgery for allegedly trying to sell phony Zone 1 and Zone 2 bus passes in Downtown Pittsburgh.
When they searched her car, they found more than 500 bogus passes for August, authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
As of Tuesday, Jocelyn Wine, 31, faced one count of access device fraud and 16 counts of forgery, but police will amend the criminal complaint to add a forgery count for every one of the passes they said they found in Ms. Wine's Toyota Prius.
On July 30, two plainclothes Port Authority police officers saw two people exchanging money and a bus pass in Market Square, Mr. Ritchie said. "As they got closer, they could clearly see it was a counterfeit pass, so they stopped the individual who made the sale."
The sale price: $15, for a pass that costs $97.50 for Zone 1 and $146.25 for Zone 2 when purchased legitimately.
The seller agreed to turn informant, and called Ms. Wine to ask for more passes to sell, according to the criminal complaint. Ms. Wine agreed to meet her and provide 18 more. Police gave the informant $80 to take to the transaction, which occurred in Ms. Wine's parked car in the 800 block of Penn Avenue, Downtown.
The informant got into the passenger seat, police said. Shortly thereafter, they moved in and found Ms. Wine holding the four $20 bills they had provided to the informant. "In plain view was a Zone 1 monthly pass which was immediately identifiable as counterfeit," the complaint said.
Ms. Wine was taken to the Allegheny County Jail and later released on $10,000 bond. Her preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday.
Mr. Ritchie said the informant also would be charged but that the authority would recommend leniency for her because she aided their investigation.
He said police have fought a running battle with counterfeiters over the years and recently secured a conviction of a man who was believed to be selling $50,000 of phony passes per month.
"A lot of times the counterfeits are easy to spot but a lot of them get through," he said. "You can't catch all of it, and it's costing us money -- money that should be going to support transit service."
That should end with full implementation of the ConnectCard system, in which riders electronically load value into plastic smart cards. When the rider taps the card at the farebox, the amount of the fare is automatically deducted.
Only a handful of service providers are still issuing cardboard monthly and weekly passes because they have not been switched to the ConnectCard system, Mr. Ritchie said.