If you’re a Kingston Transit rider, you know that the summer months usually mean that the buses are less full and more on time thanks to a lack of students and good weather. While the lack of ridership is generally looked upon as a bad thing, Kingston Transit likes to use this slow period – particularly May and June – to introduce route, schedule and service changes. Although we did receive a handful of those earlier this summer, there’s a second change happening to our buses right now that has people talking. To get a closer look at the new fare boxes, I went for a few ride-alongs on our buses and had some good chats with a few drivers.
The most obvious change as I boarded the bus was the smaller size of these new boxes. While they’re much wider than their predecessors, they’re also substantially shorter – likely to make them more accessible to all riders. They’re also missing the flat bill & ticket reader – so fares will now be coin or passes only. The coin slot’s been redesigned and there’s a new transfer system using a printer (It’s on the right, just out of the picture) and a bar code scanner. The biggest change, though, is the bright orange “My Card” logo in the centre for the new smart cards. Overall, there’s a lot to take in, so let’s take a closer look at the changes in my six tips for transit riders:
- Use up your tickets: The new boxes have lost their scanner, meaning all fares will now be coins or passes only and the old ticket system is gone. If you still have tickets you’ll be able to use them until October 31st (There’s a box to the right of the fare box to place them in) and will then need to exchange them for a new pass. Do this as soon as you can – all tickets expire on December 31st and won’t be exchangeable in 2009.
- Leave the fives at home: It almost goes without saying, but with the scanner gone, the new fare boxes are no longer able to accept paper money. While I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone feed a 5 (or 10) into the fare box and the scanners were more useful back when we had 1 and 2 dollar bills, it’s still a change worth noting.
- Use as few coins as possible: The redesign of the coin slot means that riders are no longer able to dump a handful of dimes and nickels into it and wait for the machine to catch up. Much like a vending machine, these fare boxes need to have each coin inserted individually. A lineup at a transfer point and one person with a handful of silver means a late bus.
- Grab (and save) your transfer: The new transfer system is two-fold. When using a new smart card, transfers are tracked automatically and don’t re-debit your card when you use it again. The paper system is a little more complex, though. Paper transfers are printed and display a large bar code, the date and a clear expiry time on them. When boarding your next bus, you scan the bar code and take your seat. Transfers (both paper and digital) are valid for one hour and work on any route other than the issuing one.
- Get a pass: The new My Card system comes in three flavours. The “My Tickets” card works just like the old tickets did – 20.00 (or 15.00 for youth ages 6-18 and seniors) gets you 10 rides, and the card is completely disposable. Much like the old passes, the “Monthly Pass” card (65.00 for a month, 48.00 for youth 6-18, 44.00 for seniors) works as photo ID on the bus and is good for unlimited rides. New to the options is the “Multi-ride Card”. This card is a simple cash card which deducts (and tracks) rides based on the current ticket fare. This one is reloadable with a cash value of your choice (Minimum 20.00). Both the monthly pass, and the multi-ride card are registered to the rider, and can be disabled if reported lost. A replacement card costs 5.00.
- Expect a delay: The new system is handy, but riders using the older tickets and cash fares slow it down. I watched it take as much as 5 seconds to be ready for the next fare on an old-style pass or ticket, and longer on a handful of coin. The new cards do clear faster, but also take a second for the machine to read. September’s always bad for delays, but I’m expecting this one to be a hard one to fare through.
- BONUS TIP from a driver: Stock up! At the moment, the ticket cards have no expiry date – so a 10-ride disposable card stays a 10-ride card, even during a fare increase. The unlimited monthly passes can be pre-paid for any duration, too – so they’re also, in theory, exempt from fare increases.
While I’d much rather see a new route or two – or better evening and Sunday service – the new fare boxes seem to be quite the improvement over the last ones and they’ll likely only get better in time. They’re manufactured by Sistema Bea and are, from what I understand, are being rolled out under the direct supervision from the company. They’re being installed as part of a $1.2 million investment towards capital expenditures from the province that was announced in the spring.