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September 1, 2011

Port Authority smart card system glitches remain

The new system of Pitt ID-holders tapping their cards on “smart card” fareboxes for free rides on local transit vehicles is experiencing some growing pains, officials admitted.

Launched Aug. 1 by the Port Authority of Allegheny County as a pilot program for Pitt employees and students, the new system replaced the process whereby Port Authority drivers pushed a “Pitt button” as riders flashed their ID cards while boarding. (See July 21 University Times.)

John Fedele, Pitt associate director of News, said, “As with any new program, there is a learning curve and there have been some minor issues.”

One such issue, he said, happens when a Pitt ID-holder follows a cash-paying passenger. “The cash payment has to be pushed through and accepted by the driver and the light on the farebox must be green before the next passenger taps [an] ID. If this is not done, the card will not be read appropriately even if it is in fact a valid card,” Fedele said.

The pilot program roll-out stipulates a grace period that will continue through this month for Pitt riders using the new system.

Heather Pharo, a Port Authority spokesperson, said, “There is a grace period in effect through Sept. 30, and our operators will be manually registering Pitt cards that don’t work [for any reason] during this time. Beginning Oct. 1, if a card does not work the rider will be asked to pay the fare. Cards will not be confiscated [by operators].”

Pharo said that during the grace period, transit operators have been instructed to refer riders to Panther Central if their card is not deemed valid by the scanning system.

Panther Central, located in the Towers Lobby, can be reached at 412/648-1100 or online at

Fedele said, “In the first week of the pilot, [Panther Central] received some calls because recently [issued] IDs were not working due to the timing of the Port Authority vehicle file upload. That issue has been resolved and as a result calls have declined considerably.

“The majority of IDs being reported to us as denied are invalid or damaged IDs,” Fedele added. “We have only come upon a handful of issues where an ID is valid in our system as well as the Port Authority system and it is still not working. These occurrences are rare. We do issue new IDs free-of-charge if this has happened, as long as they turn in their most current ID at the time.”

The University Times was informed that some employees who are required to wear their IDs so they are visible while they are doing their jobs had punched holes in the cards to accommodate lanyards, effectively damaging the cards for farebox scanning.

“All students, staff and faculty are responsible for paying [the $20 fee] for the replacement of their card if damaged by punching a hole in it,” Fedele said. “If they need to wear them on their person at work there are several card holders available … that will allow them to wear their ID without punching a hole in it.”

Pharo told the University Times this week, “The system is working well overall and there haven’t been any reports of major issues. Out of approximately 68,000 Pitt rides registered last week, 55,000 were tapped IDs. Keep in mind, though, that a manually registered card doesn’t necessarily mean an error or problem with the system — it could be an invalid card user [such as] a student who has graduated attempting to use his or her ID.”

The Port Authority hopes to implement the system for the general public in 2012, officials said.

—Peter Hart


Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 1

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