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Friday, July 24, 2009

Why are there Translink card readers on rear doors of SFMTA Muni vehicles?

If you have ever wondered... why are there Translink card readers on the rear doors of Muni vehicles?

The answer has been quite obvious from a recent article from SF Appeal; the idea is to improve efficiency of boarding SFMTA/Muni vehicles by allowing people with Transink cards to board the rear doors LEGALLY.

But with the rampant numbers illegally boarding the rear doors, lack of fare enforcement, and the honor system being shattered like glass, Translink boarding through the rear doors may never happen.

The exception is Muni metro where at all doors of the train, there is a card reader just a few steps away from the entrance for users to tag their card without going to the front door first; basically the POP/honor system makes the system work


But has anyone wondered what other purposes could the back door readers be used?

The Utah Transit Authority uses the same exact technology as Translink (but they allow RFID credit cards too!), and they explain in this YouTube video of why there is a second card reader installed on the back doors. Go to clip time 2:13 for the explanation.

(Sorry folks, but the transit authority banned embedding the video)

To give you the briefing... The reason why they have a card reader on the back doors is for research. As always, you have to tag to be allowed to ride the vehicle, but when tagging-off the vehicle, you are giving research data to the bus company; or as they proclaim to helping to make "better service."

Actually, that's not a bad idea, by tracking how often passengers ride vehicles, and by linking GPS data with real-time tagging of cards, can tell the agency of how to meet the changing demands of the pubic transit system.


Golden Gate Transit's use of the "tag-on" "tag-off" policy for Translink users is to make sure they get the proper fare deducted, plus they have to rely on GPS technology to know when they cross into another fare zone. The usage data can provide helpful information to Golden Gate Transit to see how each bus line is doing and what improvements should be made.

But on Muni's end, that may be a challenge; its buses run on a basic fare structure. Translink and Muni's policies would have to make it optional to tag-off, and the only true incentive for tagging-off is to simply give research data to possibly improve service. That could save Muni time and precious $$$$ to conduct research the old-fashioned way, a person on a random bus riding for hours and counting people with a clicker.

Interestingly, a trial of the tag-off rule is already happening with SFPD officers. Police officers who must ride a Muni bus while on-duty must tag their Translink card when boarding, and tag-off when exiting. The data provides proof to their supervisors that they did ride a Muni vehicle, tagging-off will tell how long the journey was, and with GPS technology, where they boarded and exited. Police as guinea pigs? Interesting idea...
But truth be told of when Translink on Muni will ever get going in full swing and stop calling it a trial. Cable Cars are not accepting it, not all fare inspectors carry the card readers, and local SF usage with a Fast Pass for BART is not even ready.


On a brighter note... I'm getting a monthly fast pass starting in September on my Translink card! I missed the Commuter Check deadline to get it applied for August.

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