Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Smarter way to pay your bus fare

Reloadable cards to be rolled out next year

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By the fall of 2013, you should be able to pay your bus fare online.

The electronic fare-collection system Winnipeg Transit plans to roll out next year calls for smart cards that can be reloaded on the Internet, over the phone or in person at retail stores, according to city documents relating to a search for vendors interested in selling the cards.

The cards should go into circulation in September 2013, six months after new electronic fare boxes are installed on Winnipeg Transit's 550 buses, said Tony Dreolini, the utility's plant and equipment manager.

"We think this will be a fairly popular way to pay for transit," said Dreolini, referring to the online-payment option that's part of a new fare-collection system first envisioned early last decade.

The project could only be implemented once mobile smart-card technology caught up with Winnipeg Transit's desire to rid itself of existing fare boxes that have changed little over the past century.

At a total cost of $15.2 million, the new fare-collection system involves the replacement of simple drop boxes with electronic devices capable of determining whether riders have deposited a sufficient number of coins -- a move that should reduce the potential for disputes over payment. The new boxes will also be equipped with electronic readers for smart cards.

Despite the longtime presence of such devices at subway and light-rail stations -- which are hard-wired to the ground -- electronic fare boxes are only now becoming common on buses, Dreolini said. "Our estimate for the development of this technology was a little optimistic," he said, conceding it has taken the city longer to implement the system than it had hoped.

Winnipeg Transit will begin replacing the old fare boxes and installing new ones in February 2013 and should be able to finish the job within two months, Dreolini said.

But there will be a six-month grace period when paper transit tickets and existing transit passes will be accepted on buses. After that, transit riders will be able to exchange them for credit on the new pass cards, he said.

Winnipeg Transit has struck a committee to determine a fare structure for the new smart cards, as the bulk discounts for multiple-ticket purchases and single-price passes will become obsolete.

The new system should be up and running by October 2013, according to the request for proposals from retailers interested in selling the smart cards. Winnipeg Transit expects to reduce the number of locations where tickets and passes are sold to between 85 and 120 from the current 170.

The electronic fare-collection system is one of the last components of a multi-year transit upgrade that also included new heated bus shelters, the placement of next-bus display monitors at busier stops and on-board next-stop announcements.

Winnipeg Transit is also in the midst of building a new $20.6-million garage to house 153 buses at its Fort Rouge headquarters on Osborne Street. Transit already has a 420-bus garage at Fort Rouge and a 130-bus garage on Main Street in West Kildonan.

Winnipeg's Caspian Construction, which is also building the former Canada Post building into a new headquarters for the Winnipeg Police Service, was awarded the bus-garage contract earlier this year.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2012 B1

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