Jan 18, 2007

Story from Boston... fare boxes freeze

My comment: If you are are a transit worker you are well acquainted with stories like this one. How can a transit system pay a fortune for fare boxes that won't work in cold weather?

The cash-strapped MBTA lost more than an hour of fares on numerous bus routes yesterday morning when dozens of new automated-fare boxes failed on their first true Boston winter day.

The fare boxes, which accept cash and credit cards, as well as the new automated CharlieCards, run only when their electronics are warmed by an internal heater to at least 20 degrees. The fare boxes, however, must be turned on for the heaters to work.

Yesterday morning, when temperatures hovered at 10 degrees, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority bus drivers did their morning checks on buses parked outside overnight as they warmed the engines. Many, however, waited until they began their morning runs to turn on their fare boxes, which would not work during their first 10 minutes to 1 1/2 hours of service during the morning rush hour.

Four of the fare boxes completely failed and were being diagnosed yesterday, said Joe Kelley, the T's deputy general manager for modernization.

Faced with dead fare boxes, most drivers allowed passengers to board for free.

T officials declined to provide a specific number of unresponsive or failed fare boxes among the 780 buses that ran yesterday morning. They also declined to estimate how much revenue was lost, though they said that the majority of bus riders use prepaid monthly passes and that most fare boxes were working by the height of the morning commute.

"Are we disappointed that we did not collect a fare from everyone this morning? Yes," said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo .

In 2006, the T took in $75 million in surface travel revenue, which includes buses, averaging about $205,000 per day. On Jan. 1, bus fares increased to $1.25 with a CharlieCard and $1.50 with a CharlieTicket.

Starting this morning, bus drivers are being instructed to turn on the fare boxes when they turn the ignition. Under federal law, buses cannot idle more than five minutes before starting their routes. In addition, overnight workers will periodically turn on the fare boxes and the buses on bitterly cold nights, officials said.

More than half of the T's 1,000-bus fleet is stored outdoors during the winter.

Kevin Vahey, 56, of Cambridge, who runs an independent blog about the T, posted a note from a rider of the No. 101 bus from Medford to Charlestown who was waved past a frozen fare box. "It was obvious the whole device was incapacitated and not powered on," he wrote.

No other problems were reported with the automated fare system yesterday, officials said.

However, 19 buses were disabled by the cold because the air brakes and door-opening systems would not operate. Eight of the problem buses were among the first 20 delivered to the T of a $52 million purchase of 155 New Flyer buses.

By yesterday afternoon, engineers had isolated the problem on the New Flyer buses to the system that purges moisture, which was letting cold air into air hoses, allowing ice to form. A fix for this problem is expected to be in place by tomorrow morning.

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