TARC and Genfare Make Transit a Lot Easier in Louisville
Prior to 2019, the process to pay fares when boarding a Transit Authority of River City bus was complicated at best, and a hassle at worst. TARC bus operators were required to visually validate a wide variety of ID cards that allowed eligible passengers to board. There were also several different versions of paper passes that required validation, and the drivers often had issues with cash fare payment, occasionally even resulting in occasional conflicts between drivers and passengers attempting to board.
The system was also vulnerable to fraud and fare evasion. According to Geoffrey Hobin, TARC’s Director of Grants & Capital Programs, the vulnerability to fraud even enabled some “creative counterfeiters” to target TARC. “At one point in time we decided to get a little creative with our paper passes, but the counterfeiters were even able to imitate those in an attempt to fraud our system,” said Hobin.
“By far the largest issue with our fare payment process was the burden of issuing and validating paper transfers,” said Hobin. “The paper transfers were confusing to our passengers, and our drivers were often placed into the position of having to challenge passengers.”
Hobin also pointed out that it was incredibly difficult to track accurate fare payment data, but perhaps the worst effect was the occasional delay in service due to the cumbersome processes involved for the drivers.
“Tremendously Important Changes” Needed
The team at TARC knew the system had to be improved. They turned to their longterm fare payment technology partner Genfare for solutions, and over the course of several years they worked together to develop the MyTARC program.
The TARC project team, which was managed by Hobin, conducted focus groups, tested numerous fare payment cards and methodologies, and received a significant amount of positive and constructive feedback from passengers. “It was obvious that massive and tremendously important changes were necessary,” said Hobin.
The result of the research was a smartcard based solution that also allowed for cash payments and automated ID validation for those IDs with magnetic stripes. Paper passes and transfers would be eliminated entirely. “We decided to ‘tear off the band-aid,’ and we are so much better off for doing so,” said Hobin.
Passengers Take Control
“Our solution needed to be robust and reliable,” said Sabeena Haridas Genfare’s Program Manager. “With TARC taking such a bold step toward improving their fare payment process, we knew the bar was raised for our team.”
The solutions were developed on the Genfare side of the project, while Hobin’s team at TARC branded it MyTARC (indicative of the control that passengers were gaining with the new system) and set about educating passengers and the community on the new program and its features. According to Angela Ubben, a Project Manager at TARC, the outreach included establishing a MyTARC branded bus, which served as a mobile customer service desk, complete with a camera and MyTARC card printer. “We took the MyTARC Bus out to the community every week leading up to the implementation of the new program to get people signed up and to issue MyTARC cards, right there on the bus.” According to Ubben, the MyTARC Bus is still in use as the outreach continues.
One Weekend to Implement
Genfare installed pilot systems on five TARC vehicles to test the MyTARC solution. According to Genfare’s Haridas, “both Genfare and TARC were completely satisfied with the testing, to the point that the team decided the complete implementation could occur over one weekend in early 2019.”
To accomplish a seamless transition and to take the best possible care of passengers, TARC eliminated the need to pay fares that weekend, to avoid any concerns over inconsistent fare payment capabilities from one bus to another as the conversions were taking place.
“It was all-hands-on-deck,” said Hobin, who cited the technical support teams from both TARC and Genfare as critical in accomplishing the swift implementation. “There were some long days and early mornings, and all of our administrative team members were riding buses and addressing concerns as they arose.” All TARC buses had the new technology by the 4 a.m. pull-out on Monday, and the entire solution went live.
The passenger outreach and education paid off, but as with any significant shift in fare payment systems, there was a large number of passengers who needed to receive MyTARC cards that morning. The lines at TARC’s Union Station location were long, but the team rose to the challenge and set up multiple lines to ensure everyone who needed a smart card received one.
Massive Improvement to Customer Service
Now that the “tremendously important changes” had been made, it was time for Hobin’s team to assess the results. “We were so pleased that the vast majority of the customer feedback was positive, even regarding the elimination of paper transfers,” said Hobin. Hobin said the bus operators even described the improvements as something just short of pure ecstasy, because TARC’s bold decision-making and Genfare’s technical solutions facilitated an entirely efficient boarding and fare payment process for everyone.
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