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Charlottesville Area Transit to demonstrate advanced fare boxes

Charlottesville Area Transit will usher in a new era for the bus system next month when fareboxes that offer more payment choices for passengers are installed in all vehicles.

“With the new boxes, we’re going to be able to offer three-day, seven-day, three months and annual passes,” said Westley Kern, CAT’s marketing coordinator.

Currently, CAT is able to offer daily and monthly passes only.

The transit system plans to hold two meetings at CitySpace on the Downtown Mall to demonstrate the new fareboxes. The meetings are at 1:45 p.m. Saturday and 9:45 a.m. May 4.

The total cost of the EZ fareboxes, by the Trapeze Group, is $614,000, but most of that amount is covered by federal and state grants. The new boxes also will allow CAT staff to gather more data on how people use the system.

“This will all be networked, and we will have the data available to us at our desktop as managers,” said John Jones, manager of CAT. “This will tell us where people get on the bus, at what time and using what pass.”

That will help CAT report better data to the Federal Transit Administration, which is requiring the nation’s bus systems to report more information to justify funding levels.

“We also have an option here that will allow the driver [to keep track of] when passengers bring a bike aboard the bus or when people in wheelchairs board the bus,” Kern said.

That will help determine if CAT needs to install shelters or other amenities at stops, Kern said.

The current system was installed in the late 1990s and payment is limited to coins, bills and paper passes. The new system has the ability to validate whether a real dollar bill is being used and whether coins are U.S. currency.

“We do receive quite a bit of foreign currency,” Kern said.

The system will not be able to take credit or debit payments on the bus because of security issues.

Currently, CAT staff members physically have to stamp the date on daily passes, which expire at midnight.

“Our new passes are going to be put on smart cards,” Kern said. Passengers can purchase these at the Downtown Transit System and swipe them over a reader on the farebox.

For the first month, CAT will not charge for the card as part of a promotional effort. After that, passengers will pay either $1 or $2 for the card, depending on the length of the pass.

A 30-day pass will cost $20, 90 days will cost $60 and an annual pass will cost $240.

Under the new system, a one-day pass will last 24 hours from purchase. Monthly passes are currently limited to the calendar month but now will last 30 days from the first time it is first swiped at a farebox.

The new system also is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act because every transaction has a noise to assist blind passengers.

The system is expected to go live May 18.

“The installation will start that Friday night,” Kern said. “We don’t run as many buses on Saturday, and we’ll be able to outfit the buses. And then on Sunday, we only have the free trolley and Route 7, so the rest of the buses can be outfitted.”

Jones said he is hoping the new farebox will translate into more riders. He said ridership is up 6.5 percent in the current fiscal year, reversing two years of decline.