Good grief, Charlie! Riders lament cards: System faulty to a T (Oct 2006)

Good grief, Charlie! Riders lament cards: System faulty to a T

By Casey Ross
Boston Herald Reporter
Thursday, October 5, 2006 - Updated: 05:52 AM EST

The MBTA is battling technical bugs in its new automated fare collection system that have stalled buses and lengthened subway ticket lines as the agency makes a $90 million transition from tokens to Charlie Cards.
T watchdogs say the problems have been a continual source of frustration for riders. “More and more people are becoming skeptical about automated fare collection,” said Lee Matsueda, an organizer with the T Riders Union. “There are a lot of delays.”
T officials insist the technical problems have not caused extensive delays, but the agency has repeatedly called in the system’s German manufacturer to make software adjustments as the equipment is installed in subway stations and on buses.
“We have asked for our customers’ forbearance as we institute this brand-new technology,” T General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said, adding that equipment manufacturer Scheidt & Bachmann has paid for all repairs to the equipment.
T officials said problems have included frozen computer screens on subway vending machines; fare boxes on buses that sometimes fail to return customers’ cards; and short-circuiting subway gates that get stuck in the open position and sometimes become badly scratched because of problems opening and closing properly.
The most troublesome issue has been a computer problem on buses that causes new fare machines to freeze and become temporarily inoperable. The problem can cause delays because bus operators must wait for an engineer from Scheidt & Bachmann to respond and make repairs.
Grabauskas said concerns about the equipment will subside once the system is fully operable. He said he expects the technical problems to be resolved by January, when contractors are scheduled to complete installation of the equipment in subway stations and on buses.
Next month, the agency will begin distributing plastic Charlie Cards to customers that will allow them to board buses and trains by simply tapping the card on the new fare boxes. The cards, which essentially act like debit cards, can store any amount of value customers want and can be replenished at vending machines throughout the system.
“The ease with which people can get on and off buses and into subway stations is going to be phenomenal,” Grabauskas said.

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