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CTA Fare Beeps, Devices, and Processes

Chicago Card Bus Reader

I just read an article in the Chicago Tribune about the different types of beeps CTA fare boxes make on buses.  After reading it, I could not stop thinking about the decision making process the CTA used when designing the form and functionality behind the fare boxes, Chicago Card readers, and fare acceptance process.

If I were designing the bus fare system and process I would have done the following:

  1. Put the Chicago Card RFID reader closer to the message display.
    1. The RFID reader should have been placed closer to the display, or,
    2. A second display should have been placed closer to the RFID reader
  2. Made sure all of the RFID Readers acted the same.
    1. This would reduce confusion
    2. Currently some readers have green/red lights that indicate if a card was read, some have amber ones that indicate a card was present, others have no indicators at all.
  3. Increased the effectiveness of audible and visual alerts.
    1. The current audible alerts are confusing and inadequate.
    2. The customer needs three warnings: Accepted, Error/Unreadable, or Denied.
      1. A tri-colored LED could solve this with Green, Amber, and Red.
      2. An audible message combined with the indicator would be more practical and informative than different beep sequences. The current number of beep sequences are unnecessary and confusing.
      3. A single line message display could be utilized, for convenience, to indicate the exact error, fare type/cost, and reason for denial.  But it should be placed AT or NEAR the reader, not far away.  Functionally, this display would be identical to the ones used at CTA rail entrances.
    3. The bus operator should have their own display
      1. The display would have messages applicable to the driver; messages the customer does not need to know, or should not know.
      2. The drivers display would eliminate much of the customer confusion.
  4. Allowed the same RFID reader to accept MasterCard or Visa RFID enabled credit cards.
    1. Fares would NOT have to be increased; the administration and authorization of fares would all be handled by a third party, so the cost would be incurred as part of the transaction, instead of ongoing administrative cost of the Chicago Card
    2. This could also be used for adding value to a Chicago Card.
  5. Allowed the driver to replace Chicago Cards.
    1. If a Chicago Card is unreadable, the driver should have the ability to replace the card on the spot.
    2. The driver could charge the replacement fee to the Chicago Card account, take cash using the bill acceptor in the fare box, or use the ability to accept credit cards.
  6. Added second farebox/RFID reader and display
    1. A second box or read would allow multiple people board at once.
    2. The second box would also allow people to board if another was completing a transaction or communicating with the driver.

Some of these options may be seen as an additional, unnecessary cost, but they would dramatically increase the efficiency of they entire system.  Increased  efficiency would allow the entire system to recognize an overall cost reduction.  Additionally, the increased efficiency would increase customer satisfaction and get riders from point A to B faster, reducing the burden of wasted time in transit to the local economy.

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Article:

We’ll give the Cliffs Notes version because the CTA fare structure is a lot more complicated than it needs to be because of a proliferation of card types, which include senior citizen free rides and fare cards for disabled riders, college students and Metra Link-Up passengers.

There are one, three and six beeps for fare cards.

One beep indicates a valid transaction. With a Chicago Card, Regional Transportation Authority reduced-fare permit smart card or student permit smart card, three beeps and the word “Retouch” on the farebox indicate the fare card machine was unable to read the card and the customer should retouch the card, said CTA spokeswoman Sheila Gregory. Three beeps without the “Retouch” prompt indicate the card has been accepted, but it has less than $2 of value remaining.

With a Chicago Card Plus, three beeps mean the fare has been collected. Unlike the regular Chicago Card, the Plus card is automatically replenished by the CTA’s accessing the customer’s credit card or bank account when the value falls below a designated level.

For all cards, six beeps signal the fare has not been paid because of an invalid or expired card, Gregory said. In those cases, the operator will request that the customer pay the fare, using cash or another transit card if available.

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