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TransLink: it’s no FasTrak

By enelson
Friday, September 21st, 2007 at 7:20 pm in 511, AC Transit, Buses, Fare systems, technology.

TransLink, the universal transit fare system that just launched, after two decades worth of development, service on AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit buses, has clearly had its share of problems.

I mean, they’re trying to integrate 26 different transit systems, some of which have trouble keeping things together within a single agency.

Now they’ve got the thing up and running, and Eric Schatmeier of Alameda raises yet another point for the system to worry about: Statements.

Here’s part of his e-mail to me:

I, too, have been a demonstration TransLink user for about six months and it’s decidedly a mixed blessing. Yes, it’s easier to have one ticket. I live in the East Bay and work in Marin so I’ve tested the card on both systems.

Although I can’t document it, I believe I’ve been overcharged on several occasions. Unlike with the FastTrak bridge toll device, no automatic statement comes to your house, so if you don’t watch carefully, you don’t know (and never will) whether you’re being charged $17.50 or $1.75.

Also, sometimes AC Transit’s drivers forget to switch their buses from Transbay to local mode. Transbay fares are double local fares so your card gets charged the wrong amount. This happened to me six weeks ago and when I complained, I fell into the organization’s customer service black hole. They haven’t even acknowledged my complaint, let alone refunded my money.

It’s too late to field this question with AC Transit or the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, but Eric raises an excellent point.

If a machine overcharges me, I’m going to want a document trail, paper or electronic, that I can use to resolve such things. If it’s based on the honor system, both passengers and transit operators are going to feel cheated on a regular basis.

Mistakes happen. Documenting them would go a long way to help people trust the system.

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15 Responses to “TransLink: it’s no FasTrak”

  1. david vartanoff Says:

    “too late to field this question with AC Transit” how so? You are asking me to believe that a system which claims to know you are using the card for a “transfer ride” does NOT generate a “trail” which could be rendered as a monthly statement of usage much like a phone. We know xxxTrak does because NY State caught employees who were faking their office hours because they were stupid enough to use the cards on toll bridges at times when they were still on the clock in the office.
    As it is translink claims it will enable an electronic version of the minimal discount from BART on buses because it will know you just detrained.

  2. Josh Says:

    You can request a statement of recent activity any time you like from the TransLink web site. It takes a few hours (during weekdays) for them to generate it, but it arrives by email in PDF form for your perusal.

  3. Capricious Commuter Says:

    David, David, David. I meant the hour was late. Nobody in their offices until Monday to answer the phone or e-mail. Obviously, it’s never too late to ask about such things.

    Clearly the system will have to know where you’ve been and what you’ve paid, but the question Eric raised was can users get access to that info.

    Now, thanks to Josh, we know they can.

  4. Doug Faunt Says:

    As a demonstration user, I had the local/transbay problem early on, and sent in a comment about it, and asked about the proper procedure for correcting an error. I was told, in essence, “don’t make mistakes”. This is a system dealing with human beings, mistakes are going to happen. I mentioned this to a AC director, but haven’t followed up.

    So far, I’ve found that if it’s working, it works correctly. OTOH, I have no idea if it’d correctly bill the situation where you ride two local buses and then a transbay bus within 90 minutes.

  5. Brian T Says:

    This doesn’t really solve the local/transbay “glitch”, but usually things even out when the driver gives me a free ride. At first the new shorter 30′ Van Hools buses didn’t have readers. Other times the card didn’t read or the reader wasn’t turned on at all.

  6. Capricious Commuter Says:

    That may be one of TranLink’s biggest selling points right now, Brian. Free rides whenever something doesn’t quite work. I’d be intereste to hear from AC Transit or MTC about these types of multiple-ride fare issues.

    And Doug, if you do ride two local buses and transbay bus within 90 minutes (a good trick), how are your fares supposed to be calculated?

  7. TransLinkInsider Says:

    The TransLink card keeps a record of customer transactions in order to calculate the correct fare. For example, if a cardholder tags once on an AC Transit bus paying full fare ($1.75), and then rides again within a set timeframe, the system will charge the cardholder the transfer rate ($.25). The same would be true for interagency transfers between different transit agencies per their business rules. This includes all the wackiness of BART/Muni transfers. The data is stored on the card; when the bus pulls into the yard, the data is uploaded to the back-end so that the back-end matches the info on the card.

    As for the Transbay/Local switch, please check the reader display before tagging.

  8. Scott Mace Says:

    Not all bus drivers let you ride for free. Be prepared to pony up cash when they demand it. This happened to me, and I’m sure is happening to others.

  9. John T Says:

    When I became a demonstration rider, it did suprise me that monthly statements aren’t issued. You can request a 30 day transaction history via email, but I think that it should operate like FasTrak in sending a monthly statement via email. That can’t be much of a programming difference, but it would certainly help.

  10. david vartanoff Says:

    indeed a record of use took a day or so to obtain, but as it only indicates agency and date it is difficult to track actual billing because no route # or time of day is provided although translink must have this data. In NYC the MetroCard record is sufficient to have exonerated someone who was able to show he was on the subway at the time of an alleged crime.

  11. Capricious Commuter Says:

    David, are you sure that wasn’t just in an episode of “Law and Order?” ;-)

  12. david vartanoff Says:

    As I have no TV 9 years now… I believe I read about it on SubChat and THINK it was referenced to NY news media.

  13. Capricious Commuter Says:

    No TV. Wow. Then how do you watch “The Daily Show?”

  14. timote Says:

    TransLinkInsider Says:
    “As for the Transbay/Local switch, please check the reader display before tagging.”

    This one I don’t like – the machine switches back and forth on messages, one lists the current fare and one says something else like “tag your card here”, I forget. The problem is that there is a few second delay on each, so if you hop on at the wrong time you’re supposed to just stand there like an idiot with people behind you waiting to see if the fare is right?

    I’ve had drivers be unhappy at me (not majorly) cause of the reverse – they charged me local for a transbay cause they forgot to set the machine. Sorry, not much I can do about it once I tag the card…

  15. Ruthh Says:

    For the past two years, I have commuted daily during the week. I usually use the Cash/FasTrak Lane, and I have never, not once, failed to pay my toll or violated the FasTrak, yet, I recently got a ticket because the toll attendant failed to push the necessary button indicating that I had paid. I believe this occurred on a morning when the toll attendant got angry because he dropped one of the four $1 bills I handed him. In retaliation, he failed to push the button to indicate that I paid my toll. I do not owe this money, but I do not know what to do. The only way they will dismiss the ticket is if I sign-up for FasTrak,which I do not want!

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