Authority to roll out new system by mid-summer
January 5, 2007
BOSTON (ATC) - Charlie may still be stuck on the MTA, but his card will soon disappear from your wallet. The MBTA's automated fare collection system has "not performed as well as expected and will be replaced," MBTA Chairman Dan Graubaskas said at a press conference today. The new plan, expected to be implemented system-wide by the summer of 2007, will do away with the RFID-embedded "smart cards" and instead introduce a fare collection system dubbed "CharlieDisc" by the transit authority.
"With the new CharlieDisc, T customers will enjoy a new world of fare freedom that they never thought existed," Graubaskas said. "Instead of keeping track of a cumbersome card prone to frequent breakdowns, they will ride the T using a brand-new form of payment."
According to Graubaskas, the CharlieDisc is the first fare collection system in the country to utilize the new "Value Disc" technology, which has been in development for several years. In an innovative twist on the traditional pass system, each metallic CharlieDisc, roughly three-quarters of an inch in diameter, represents the fare equivalent of one subway ride. Customers will be able to purchase these discs individually or in groups from machines placed in each MBTA station and then exchange that disc for access to the train platforms. To add value, customers simply purchase more discs.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo demonstrated the collection procedure with one of the new CharlieDisc gates, designed by the German firm Messingzeichen GmbH. "First you pop the latch on the Disc Collection box, open the lid, place your CharlieDisc in the circular depression here, then close the lid and pull the Disc Validator lever. Once you hear eleven bells, you can then open the fare gate by turning the crank on the other side of the unit." Pesaturo added that purchasing the CharlieDiscs is an equally simple process.
For testing purposes, the T has already implemented the new CharlieDiscs at some of the more heavily-trafficked subway stations, including Airport, Government Center, Downtown Crossing, and Bowdoin. At these stations, the CharlieDiscs will be the only payment method offered, and only these participating stations will accept the CharlieDiscs as payment.
Already some consumers are expressing doubt that this change is an improvement. Holly Hill, a homemaker from Hull, described her experiences with the new CharlieDiscs at the Airport station.
"You've got to have an individual disc thing for each ride you take," Hill said. "They say we can buy as many as we like, but they're clunky and heavy and jingle in your pocket. "
Bert Alberts of Somerville also expressed his frustration at the CharlieDisc's monthly pass option.
"I tried purchasing the new monthly pass," Alberts said, "And the machine gave me like 60 of these things. I was surprised when they started dropping into the little hopper. I felt like I was in Foxwoods. Am I supposed to carry all these around?"
Joe Pesaturo acknowledges that the transition from cards to discs could potentially pose problems.
"We realize this new system may confuse people at the start," Pesaturo said. "This happens with every new technological advancement, from the printing press to the Roomba. The important point to take away here is that one CharlieDisc equals one ride. And when you put the CharlieDisc in the gate, you don't get it back."
It is not known at this time what will happen to the CharlieDiscs once they are accepted by the fare gates. Graubaskas explained the Disc Validation process involves bending the disc in half and then flattening it altogether. The T is exploring several disposal options, including depositing the used discs in the Charles River, surreptitiously dumping them somewhere west of I-495, or melting them down into souvenir lobster magnets to be sold at Quincy Market. Graubaskas said the revenue generated by the magnet sales would help the T's bottom line but it would not be enough to cancel the anticipated $2.50 fare increase, which will go into effect once the CharlieDiscs are implemented system-wide.
"We're committed to ensuring our riders have a safe, easy, fast ride," Graubaskas concluded. "We know everybody will be loath to give up their personal CharlieCards, but we are planning on offering five shiny new CharlieDiscs for every card turned in to our Card Collection Center, regardless of how much value is left on your card. That way everybody will begin the new system on a level playing field."
As expected, MBTA critics immediately leapt to the Internet to express their consternation. "I admit the disc exchange program will help ease the transition process," commented long-time quibbler RedRider74 on his Park Street Under blog. "But really, when you get right down to it, it's just another token gesture."