Port Authority to test new fare boxes

By Andrew Shull

Although students might be used to swiping their Panther Cards, this summer the Port Authority… Although students might be used to swiping their Panther Cards, this summer the Port Authority will test out a new method of using the Pitt ID: the tap.

This year, the Port Authority installed new fare boxes on buses that will allow for “smart card” technology. Jim Ritchie, a Port Authority spokesman, said that while the new fare boxes are already installed in all of the buses, the smart card technology will not be fully adopted until 2012, if preliminary testing in the next few months is successful.

Instead of swiping, transit riders will press their ID cards against the designated area on the new fare boxes, at which point a red light will indicate that the tap was successful.

Ritchie said that the Port Authority will begin testing the new smart card system on Pitt student IDs this summer. There is not a specific date for the start of this test, but he said more information will be released through the University.

Ritchie said that the first phase of testing involved Port Authority employees using smart cards much in the same way that they use their company IDs to gain access to office buildings.

Patricia White, a Pitt spokeswoman, said that Pitt did not have any information on the new fare boxes or the smart card program.

Out of Pitt’s 29,000 students, more than 20,000 live off campus and rely on the Port Authority buses for regular transportation. Pitt students each pay $90 a semester toward unlimited rides on all Port Authority buses, rails and inclines.

Ritchie said that the new technology will allow the Port Authority to track rider and fare data. The test phase this summer will indicate to the Port Authority whether it will be able to fully launch the new technology.

Ritchie said other cities, including Atlanta, have used similar technology for years.

Riders will still be able to pay their fares in cash both during the smart card test phase over the summer and when the system is fully adopted, should the trial prove successful.

Some Port Authority riders, such as Pitt law student Bala Kumar, liked the idea.

“Technological improvements are always nice to see,” he said as he waited for a bus at the Port Authority stop on Fifth and Atwood.

Up the street at the bus stop on the corner of Fifth and Thackeray, another Pitt student, sophomore Mei Hong, said that she liked the idea because people might be using expired ID cards to ride the buses.

On the other side of Litchfield Towers, Kevin Minehan, a junior majoring in mathematics, said he liked the idea of smart card technology because of its efficiency.

None of those Pitt students, who all said they ride Port Authority buses multiple times a week, said they had noticed the new fare boxes. Under the current system, students just flash their Pitt IDs to the bus drivers.

Not all were pleased with the new technology. Angel Pieseski, a daily Port Authority rider who came to Oakland for a doctor’s appointment, did not see the necessity of the fare boxes.

“I think that they were a waste of money,” she said. “The old fare boxes worked just fine.”

The Port Authority spent $33 million on the changes to the new fare-collection system.

Pieseski said she relies on the Port Authority as her primary mode of transportation, and she lamented the 15 percent service cuts that went into effect last month. Those cuts eliminated 29 bus routes, and according to the Port Authority website, it reduced weekday service on more than three dozen routes.

Pieseski, who said she usually buys a monthly pass that costs $90, didn’t have high hopes for the smart card technology either. When asked how she thought it would affect her Port Authority experience, she answered, “They’ll probably just end up cutting more routes.”