Last December, Muni invited riders to begin using TransLink universal fare cards on its trains and buses as part of a soft-launch trial period. By August, there were 6,775 average weekday TransLink boardings, making up 1.04 percent of Muni rides. The MTA hopes that by next year, the daily average will be 120,000, once TransLink-only fare gates are in place at its underground Muni Metro stations.
A discussion over at Muni Diaries revealed that a lot of TransLink users are still encountering hiccups, however, with offline readers being one of the biggest problems. Said the commenter Tenderblog:
It’s really unfortunate how many of the readers are offline on the buses and I’m wondering if it’s the drivers not being told how and why they need to turn it on or legitimate problems. I’m absolutely ecstatic at [not] having to always carry a wad of ones with me when I go out.
We contacted MTA spokesperson Judson True to find out why so many card readers still seem to be offline. Is there simply an epidemic of faulty readers, or is something else afoot?
"We estimate that about 95 percent of the card readers are working at any given time," explained True. "The main issue that we’re seeing is a power issue. If the voltage on a vehicle drops below a certain point, the card reader will power down. Then it’s supposed to pick back up, and it’s not always doing that." Readers in genuine need of repair are far less common.
True said the MTA is working with Cubic, the region-wide TransLink contractor, and Booz Allen Hamilton, Muni’s TransLink technical advisor, to address the issue. Cubic is also working on a fare box rehabilitation project for the MTA, said True, and "when they start going in and doing that beginning October 4, they’re going to update the firmware and add memory on the card readers."
"We anticipate that that’s going that to help address the issue," said True, because "the firmware is essentially software on the device that tells it went to power back up." With updated firmware, the readers should start back up more reliably.
Perhaps if the firmware upgrade goes well, Muni can finally drop the "trial" designation from the program. TransLink users will be relieved to no longer have to count on benevolent Muni drivers waving them through when the readers are down. For now, riders can expect to encounter faulty TransLink machines about once in every 20 trips, with the most common issue being a blank screen. Let us know if your TransLink experience matches that figure in the comments section below.