Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

WMATA Metrobus proposes to go cashless on limited stop (rapid) bus services

I didn't write about it, but last Monday was the deadline to submit comments about WMATA's plans to go cashless on the limited stop bus services, to reduce dwell time, both from taking cash for fares or adding cash to a SmarTrip card, which is a cumbersome and time consuming process at the fare machine on the buses.

-- Printed survey

I answered the online survey and submitted a brief set of "comments."  Mostly the submission was photos of marketing by Transport for London about places where people can put money cash or credit on their Oyster cards, outside or or external to transit stations.

WMATA bus public consultation on going cashless for limited stop bus services

User experience.  While I support moving to cashless to speed up bus service, I argued that moving to cashless without having fare card machines outside of train stations and greater attention paid to  locations where riders can put money on their SmarTrip cards in more convenient ways does riders a disservice.  Access to farecard services outside of the Metrorail system is the primary point as it relates to "user experience."

(The sections on:

  • The London Underground (Transport System) as a Design Artifact

  • Transit Systems and Legibility

  • Connectivity and access as questions of usability in mobility planning

  • Wayfinding

  • Overuse of the subway map concept as a way of representing information

  • from the entry "World Usability Day," discuss "transit user experience" matters in greater depth.)

    Machines for buying Metrocards and adding money to them (either cash or credit) are only located within Metrorail stations.
    WMATA fare card machines at Union Station, Washington, DC

    Farecard machines aren't present on the surface at major bus stops where lines intersect--although the big hulking machines could be replaced by smaller ATM-like machines for non-station locations.

    Note the the Transport for London ticket machine in the center of the picture above.  It's small enough to be able to be built into building facades, just like an ATM.  (One issue with stand-alone machines is security.  And admittedly, one issue with machines outside of Metrorail stations is the cost to service and operate them.)

    Some retail stores service SmarTrip cards.  While there aren't WMATA fare machines outside of transit stations, it is possible to put money on cards at CVS Pharmacy, Giant Supermarkets, and Walmart stores, and certain other outlets.  Some sell the cards too (Giant, Walmart primarily).

    Earlier this year CVS threatened to stop doing so because of problems working with WMATA ("CVS Agrees to Continue Selling Metro's SmarTrip Cards," NBC4).

    It used to be that there was SmarTrip signage on some of the storefronts.  Even when present the materials aren't particularly noticeable.

    Yesterday, I looked at the facades of five CVS stores in DC and Silver Spring, Maryland and didn't see any signage for the SmarTrip card program.  And Giant has a decal at the entryway stating all the non-grocery services they provide (selling stamps, etc.) and this decal does not list selling or adding money to SmarTrip cards.

    Transport for London's marketing of off-transit Oyster card services.  That's why I submitted images from London.

    Like this storefront in Hackney Borough on the Mare Street pedestrian mall, about one block from the Hackney Central London Overground Station.  Note the lighted sign reproductions of the Oyster card, communicating very clearly that the store offers Oyster-related services.

    One of the marketing programs for off-site Oyster card money-adding services is called "Oyster Ticket Stop" and TfL provides a variety of graphic design treatments for affixing to storefronts.

    Some materials refer to this service not as a "Ticket Stop" but a "Oyster Card Top-up"

    Other stores even provide walk up windows.

    Note that these are independent stores, not chains, and chain stores, with their own brand design requirements aren't likely to go for the same treatment, which in the examples shown above, tend to be garish.  

    But it is possible to do something tasteful, such as this "Moneygram" sign posted in a window at a CVS store in Silver Spring.

    Oyster Ticket Stop sites incorporated into transit mapping.  Unfortunately, I forgot to mention in the submission that station wayfinding signage and area map brochures for London train stations stations also show the location of Oyster Ticket Stops.  I can't remember if this extends to the maps in bus shelters.  Ticket Stop locations are not included on the Legible London wayfinding signage system (Bus stops are indicated.) 
    Wayfinding Map brochure, Continuing Your Journey from Highbury & Islington London Underground Station

    The ability to put money on fare cards outside of Metrorail stations needs to be heavily and creatively marketed.  One example is the "Orca To Go" program in Greater Seattle.

    Transit marketing materials in St. Louis, by My House of Design

    Billboard on the introduction of limited stop bus service in Los Angeles, branded MetroRapid, c. 2003 

    This bag is offered to retailers, with the map diagram of the London Underground on one side and the option to imprint store information on the other.

    And this should include advertising within the transit system at stations and on buses and trains.

    In the surface transit network, locations where SmarTrip cards can be purchased and/or serviced should be indicated on WMATA maps at bus shelters and in dedicated signage at bus stops.

    Airports.  I neglected to mention that there should be farecard machines at the BWI and Dulles Airports, since both are served by Metrobus but without the ability to buy a farecard.  Although technically this isn't part of the proposed expansion of the cashless bus program, although it is related to the general question of ensuring access to SmarTrip cards at main points within the system.

    Actually at BWI, since there is a light rail station there (I haven't used it, I'll check it out the next time I'm there), you could buy a CharmCard and use it on Metrobus because the CharmCard and SmarTrip cards are inter-operable, meaning they can be used on transit in either Baltimore or the Washington area.

    But that element of the transit card isn't well marketed, e.g., at BWI Airport the transit fare card should be marketed as usable on both Washington and Baltimore local transit systems.

    (Baltimore) MTA farecard machine

    Still, the bus stops at BWI are located away from the light rail station and so additional fare card machines should be made available in the surface mobility service area.

    Like what Montreal's transit system does.  The Trudeau Airport is served by bus but not rail.  They call the bus the "747."

    Of course, when the Dulles Metrorail station opens this won't be an issue any longer.

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    At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Its a good idea but WMATA won't be able to implement it because of the inability to conveniently add value to farecards. Simpler and more plentiful machines should be everywhere, but SmartTrip is too limited and WMATA can't maintain or manage anything. Even if you add value online, it can take days to show up. And as much as a drag as poor people are, I'm sympathetic enough to understand that planning ahead financially isn't their strong suit for various reasons. I've always thought buses should have a 2nd touch point rearward of the driver, so passengers could add fare or whatever during the ride instead of holding up boarding. For buses, I honestly think bringing back tokens would be a better idea. Just put them out as pseudo-currency and let the market figure it out. WMATA sure can't figure out anything.

    At 12:31 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

    I've never added money online. I didn't realize that it takes a long time to show up. I know that my one experience doing something like that, with the Orca card in Seattle, was similarly frustrating. It only is batch updated.

    But I think the "instantaneous add" from a machine works pretty well.

    Your idea of a second touchpoint on buses is excellent. But then so would fare machines on the surface.

    but about machines and software, I was alluding to but didn't say. When I was in the process of writing this entry, I was thinking of the "President's Council" of transit agencies that created the standardized PCC car.

    Why doesn't the APTA take the lead with transit agencies and develop standardized systems, in particular fare card machines.

    WRT software, there are industry standards etc., but I don't understand why everyone needs to still have their own super specific implementation. E.g., that DC and Baltimore use the same card system is actually miraculous in the great scheme of things.

    They should extend it to Virginia systems too, since the State of Virginia is a member of the compact.

    Similarly, what Ontario did is a big thing too. It's complicated in Ottawa though because the suburbs are in Quebec and they don't participate.

    At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I haven't done it in awhile, but even after you "add" it online, you have to "touch" the card within a certain period of time to "load" the money, else the transaction is cancelled. Aaand, the lag time is different between bus, rail, or other "touchpoints." So it is possible to add funds online, but then go to use it but the funds haven't transferred yet so you can't get through a fare gate (or more likely) pay bus fare. Its all annoying inconvenient and stupid. If you are a daily rider and your fare card has a cushion of value on it, its ok, but if you are an infrequent user it can be a pain. I can't blame the poor and luddites for wanting to stick with cash b/c if you have it in your hand at least you know its there.


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