Wednesday, April 10, 2013

NPT Card Accessibility

Short and sweet.

Make sure there are facilities to dispense and charge NPT cards at every single subway, El, Regional Rail, NHSL, and 101/102 stop.

Make sure there are facilities to dispense and charge NPT cards at every single Subway-Surface stop in the tunnel.

Make sure there are facilities to dispense and charge NPT cards at every single Subway-Surface loop.

Make sure there are facilities to dispense and charge NPT cards at principal bus nodes--anywhere, except for Center City or on the Frankford Terminal approaches, where three or more bus routes come together. This includes Wissahickon Transfer, the Ogontz Loop, Franklin Mills, King of Prussia, Penn's Landing, Front & Market, Whitman Plaza, Andorra, Plymouth Meeting, Willow Grove, and so forth. Additionally, ensure that NPT dispensaries are available at principal jobs hubs, such as HUP.

The goal is to maximize user accessibility, maximize ease of use, maximize user confidence.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What Oyster Teaches Us About Fare Collection

How it's done:
SEPTA's NPT wants to act like London's Oyster Card, but with an open platform. Many Oyster best practices are thus best practices SEPTA needs to implement.

1. Tap in, tap out. SEPTA's current NPT Regional Rail policy is extremely convoluted and commuter-optimized, essentially giving free fare one way in exchange for double fare the other. Anywhere where there's a viable workaround, this will ensure overloaded trains on the free side and empty trains on the double-fare side.

Instead, Oyster uses a validator system, which is just an electronic update of a proof-of-payment system. Proof-of-payment systems are tried and tested, and are in use on the River Line and throughout the MBTA and most newer commuter-rail and light-rail networks. And best of all, they can be policed in the same manner as other proof-of-payment systems--just check and see if the card is indeed showing an active trip  being taken, and fine the holder if not--like a transit traffic ticket.

2. Guide to workarounds. Another issue NPT has is zone implementation. Annoying, but the only alternative is a per-mile fee. Instead, use an Oyster-style intrazone transfer system. On the Oyster, where route transfers can avoid zone surcharges, pink transfer gates are installed, allowing for free transfers and cheaper routes. Think like at 69th St. or Fern Rock, here.
3. Fare cap. Right now, SEPTA wants NPT to have a trip cap--200 a month. Asides from "unlimited" cards getting in trouble with laws and stuff about false advertising, this is rather the wrong way to go about capping. Instead, cap fares. Oyster caps fares at a peak (or off-peak) (round-trip?) ticket of the highest fare used during that day. Since most London transfers are free, this (incidentally) caps Michael Noda's Upper Darby trip at $5.00 (assuming NHSL round trip, $0.50 "premium", and round trip fare capping) or $7.00 (assuming 123 round trip, $1.50 "premium", and round trip fare capping). His hypothetical fare peak at $11.50 would cease to exist.

Keep in mind the fare capping system I am proposing caps fares at the most expensive single round trip fare used. So if Mr. Noda went to Upper Darby but caught the 104, the fare cap would remain at $4.00 (since both the El and 104 within Upper Darby Township charge a $2.00 cash fare).

Of course, the problem of excessive "premium service" cost for the 123 remains, but a fare capping system makes it more bearable.

4. Make it easy, make it easy, make it easy. This needs to become a mantra. Make it easier on the user, make the system more transparent, and don't unfairly penalize folks who don't have a card. On the other hand, make it easy and natural for everyone to have a card--much like the average New Yorker's wallet has an MTA card, and the average Londoner's an Oyster Card.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Tempest in a Teapot

I must admit, I was wrong. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Some time ago I went on a rant about how SEPTA and PATCO need to coordinate fare media. They do; so do SEPTA and DART, SEPTA and NJT, and NJT and PATCO (I do not think any NJT route goes over the Delaware Memorial Bridge).

My mistake is that I had assumed--based on very old information--that the Freedom Card had been built on an open platform. It is not. It is built on the same closed-source platform e.g. London's Oyster Card is.

By contrast, SEPTA's NPT is to be built on an open platform--and this, incidentally, will make it first in the nation to be--and so requiring it to be compatible with a closed system is significantly more technically difficult than the examples I've given previously, both here and on Michael Noda's blog. This does not absolve SEPTA completely--you can totally run (closed source) Microsoft Office on (open source) Linux running Wine, for example--but there's a second development that makes me wonder.

PATCO is jonesing about replacing its existing Freedom Card architecture. That makes me wonder: 1. Freedom Card, as it is, is all of five years old, hardly enough time to become technically obsolete (unless, you know, you're Microsoft or Nintendo), and 2. a fairly straight port of Oyster Card technology--you know, the same Oyster Card that is the model of how to do (nearly) everything right. But the news that PATCO is jonesing to replace Freedom, coming out as it has in the thick of NPT, strongly suggests to me that that move isn't meant so much to replace Freedom per se as it is migrating the Freedom architecture onto something compatible with NPT's open-platform architecture.

I'll repeat: the mistake I made was assuming Freedom was open-platform. If it was, that would put compatibility onus on SEPTA. But it isn't, and since SEPTA's NPT is to be open, that puts compatibility onus on PATCO. And from what I've heard, PATCO is being proactive about it. Thankfully.