Monday, June 8, 2009

Backed into a corner

I foresee a conflict in RTA's future. You see, Riverside County is being squeezed into it's geographical corner. Years of drive-'till-you-qualify construction and hours of commute time have brought us to an inevitable source of friction, a war between two factions who will come together on the battlefield of our transit system to settle their dispute.

I refer, of course, to the conflict between Compass Card and TAP.

Both San Diego and Los Angeles are rolling out these nifty smart cards for fare payment. As far as I can tell, they are both the same system, using Genfare GFI equipment. The concept is fantastic- you can load either stored value or transit passes of any kind onto the card (including transfers), and you simply tap it when you board a bus or train. The system either registers your pass or deducts your cash. You can re-load the pass over the internet or telephone, on buses, at train stations, or even have it re-load automatically. It reduces paper, obviates the need to remember to carry cash, and allows you to carry any and all transit passes you might need for a long morning commute on one convenient card. I wholeheartedly hope that this program crosses the county line and gets implemented on RTA. (It'll be a while for Omni, their fareboxes do not currently support this system, but RTA's probably do.) So why do I say there will be inevitable conflict over these cards?

Because, simply enough, there's two of them.

Customers in the north end of RTA's service area (Riverside, Corona, Moreno Valley, and down probably as far as Hemet) commute to Los Angeles. With RTA's CommuterLink system bringing these folks to Metrolink (who will soon require a TAP card for transfers to Metro) and Foothill Transit, they will want to be able to load their RTA fare media onto a TAP card. Customers south of Hemet, down through Temecula and Murietta, the base users of the 202 and new 217 routes, commute into the San Diego area, with connections to NCTD Breeze, Coaster, Sprinter and MTS Commuter Express, all of which are now using the Compass Card. Accordingly, these commuters would be best served if they could load their RTA fare onto this same card as well.

I am entirely unaware of any transit system facing this issue, anywhere else in the country. Existing as we do between two major metropolitan areas, with commuters visiting both every day, is not a common condition for most communities. A few other places, like the areas between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, or Stockton (which has commuter services to the Bay Area and Sacramento) may see this issue in the future, but for now, Riverside stands alone. Resolving this conflict will not only improve the lives of our community, but set a precedent for future municipalities in our situation.

I sent an e-mail to Genfare GFI customer service, and though I don't expect a prompt reply, hopefully we'll find out what our options are.


artscience84 said...

Hey. Great blog!

Did they ever figure this thing out?
I'd like to have a card like this.
Can I get one online?

From Murrieta

JN said...


Unfortunately, RTA hasn't adopted any sort of smart-card ticketing system as of right now. The Metrolink TAP thing was solved by embedding tiny RFID tags into Metrolink tickets, which I think is a bit of a cop-out, but meh, it works. I still think this is going to have to be dealt with in the future, but the future is still ahead of us.