New Muni fareboxes approved by SFMTA

Muni riders might want to save their next classic tear-off paper transfer for nostalgia or a piece of transit-themed artwork, as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors Tuesday approved a $21.9 million contract for for 1,336 new fareboxes that will print out transfers for cash-paying Muni riders.

The five-year deal with Illinois-based SPX GenFare also includes $600,000 for annual preventive maintenance, 50 spare fareboxes, and options to extend the contract.

Muni’s current fareboxes, which date back to 1991 and refurbished in 2008, are near the end of its useful life, said Jason Lee, the project manager for the farebox procurement.

He said the maker of the existing fareboxes, Cubic, no longer is in the farebox business anymore and that there are not enough existing fareboxes for the new fleet of buses and trains, which is why the transit agency is purchasing new ones.

Lee said the new fareboxes will be reliable, durable and be able to track fare transactions by routes and boarding locations, something the old fareboxes were not able to do:

“Our existing fareboxes based on 25-year old technology, don’t provide adequate records for us to be able to track individual fare transactions.”

Most importantly, Muni operators will have one less burden of tearing off transfers and checking them, said Lee. Once the rider pays the current fare, the Muni operators will push a button on their control unit and a printed transfer will pop out of the farebox.

Riders will consistently get a 90-minute transfer, which is what is supposed to be given to most Muni riders, though some operators are a little more generous than others. The new fareboxes will still print out a late-night transfer between 8:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., a SFMTA staff report said.

Muni’s fleet of buses and light-rail vehicles will all receive the new fareboxes including some historic streetcars with the exception of those equipped with antique fareboxes, said Lee.

The transit agency is purchasing the model called the Odyssey Farebox. It will feature a color display, a slot for bills and coins and of course the transfer dispenser. Anyone worried about coins getting jammed should note that the transit agency put this specification for the coin validator:

“The coin validator mechanism shall be capable of processing coins at an insertion rate of not less than five items per second on a continuous basis.”

Lee said the new fareboxes will be able to accommodate any fare policy changes that the SFMTA board decides to make in the future.

Operator safety

With pre-printed transfers coming out of the farebox, the transit agency will no longer have to worry about stacks of paper of transfers being stolen.

Lee said the transfer paper for the new fareboxes will have no value until the transfer is printed out.

Another problem brought up at the meeting by Director Joél Ramos was whether it’s the operators job to enforce fare compliance.

Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the transit agency is working on minimizing the operators role in the fare transaction process:

“It’s one of the leading causes of assaults on operators or disputes over fare transactions.”

Reiskin said operators have received guidance on how to deal with riders who do not pay or show proof of payment upon entering the front door. He said drivers should remind the rider that he or she has to pay. If the rider ignores the operator, the operator should not pursue it further:

“That’s what we have the fare inspectors for.”

Implementation of fareboxes

Before the new fareboxes rollout onto Muni buses and trains, the transit agency will train a number of different staff who will internet with the fareboxes and pre-printed transfers including transit operators and supervisors, station agents, maintenance, transit fare inspectors and fare collection receivers.

Lee said that in August that staff will review the design and begin training SFMTA staff. The transit plans to install and pilot the new fareboxes at the Potrero Division in November.

Between December and March 2017, the rest of the fareboxes will get installed at the rest of the other divisions, said Lee.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will also need to approve the item before moving forward.