More "cool transit features" buried in universal fare card law

When I wrote last week about the new law Gov. Quinn signed requiring CTA, Metra and Pace to issue a single smart card that riders of all three transit agencies can use to pay fares, I wasn’t aware of some of the total package of new, cool features also mandated by the law.

But I am a smarter man now after having read about them in Grid Chicago, “a new blog by John Greenfield and Steven Vance about sustainable transportation in Chicago and Illinois.”

Greenfield and Vance did such a nice job summarizing what they call the “new, cool feature” that I will just do a straight-up copy and paste from their very informative post. Keep up the good work, gents.

New transit features

  • Transfer fares
    The RTA and three service boards must develop a transfer fare policy (including how to share fares between agencies) for passengers who pass between fixed-route services amongst the agencies.
    Deadline: January 1, 2013
  • Regional fare payment
    The RTA must develop a regional fare payment system (“universal fare” or “open fare” system) that allows passengers to pay with contactless credit cards, debit cards, and prepaid cards for all fixed-route services. Beginning in 2012, the RTA must report to the Governor the developmental progress of this program.
    Deadline: January 1, 2015.
  • Transit trackers
    All service boards must provide transit trackers on the web (CTA already does this for its buses and now trains). Note that the legislation does not require them to make public APIs or data feeds for arrival information.
    Deadline: July 1, 2012.
  • Wi-fi feasibility
    The RTA must investigate and report to the Governor and General Assembly the feasibility of providing wireless internet on all fixed-route services. The Act didn’t specify how the RTA and service boards would charge for this service.
    Deadline: January 1, 2012.
  • Wi-fi on Metra
    Metra must provide wi-fi on all trains, if it can be provided at no cost to Metra. The Act didn’t specify how Metra would charge for this service.
    Deadline: January 1, 2012.
  • AEDs on Metra
    Metra must study the installation and use of automated external defibrillators (AED) on its trains.
    Deadline: July 7, 2012.


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  • As I previously indicated with laws of this type, most of these are "study." And with transfer policy, the the RTA essentially punted on this before, at least with CTA unilaterally saying that it would not take Pace transfers, and the RTA not resolving the 7 day pass issue, but CTA and Pace among themselves agreeing to the joint pass that cost $5.00 more.

    On the tracker one, you are incorrect, in that Pace has Webwatch. However, while it may comply with the law, it is a totally inaccurate piece of garbage, in that there are "ghost buses" (you know there must be a bus there, but it doesn't show up on the map) and the predictor basically gives the schedule, even during the Feb. blizzard when only about 10% of the buses were on the road.

    Also, if the legislature really wanted to do something, it would be to get Pace on Google Transit and tell the RTA to quit spending money on goroo (I guess they killed the Trip Planner) since it is duplicative and still inaccurate (suggesting, for instance, taking the 367 bus to the University of Chicago Law School, arriving at the HICKORY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL in University Park).

    So, ineffective band-aids while the systems bleed. Again, count how many of these bullet points would be unnecessary if (1) transit were merged, and (2) the RTA actually did something. But the legislature won't bite the bullet and expects us to praise it for ineffective steps.

    Meantime, the rumors have started about what kind of cuts will be needed next year because of Quinn's fare freeze con game. Of course, Claypool will say that he hasn't started working on the budget. It won't make a difference if you can get wi fi on a bus if you can't get on a bus, or if you get on the L and someone steals your device.

  • In reply to jack:

    Sometimes Google planner gives me better results, sometimes Goroo does. Sometimes I end up cobbling together clues from both to create a better travel plan that neither one managed to come up with--I flesh out the details by looking at the timetables for each bus or train and researching the connection points.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Well, it shouldn't have to work like that.

    Either the systems are accurate or they are not. If they are not, don't have the charade that they are useful. As you can infer, that goes for WebWatch, too.

  • In reply to jack:

    Only the wi-fi and aed seem to be study only. The important stuff all says "must". I'd be overjoyed if they just managed to integrate the fare system. (Or better yet, of course, integrate the whole system under one independent authority.)

  • I'm just glad there will be a universal card and transfers. Having a card for both Metra and CTA and being able to get discounted transfers between them is really nice. It's interesting that the transfer setup is required before the universal card. Perhaps this will be the first step in combining the agencies.

    As Jack stated, the rest of the stuff is nice but carries no weight if it's just a stipulation to study it. They'll simply say, "We studied it and it won't work" like they have in the past.

    It's interesting that Metra is required to have Wi-Fi if it can get it for free, in a matter of 6 months. Makes me think there has already been discussions about it. This could be a big hit with commuters, as laptops are already pretty prevalent.

  • With regard to "there must have been discussions about it," if Metra wasn't still in the 19th century, all these legislative mandates wouldn't be necessary.

  • We need one service board, not four. That would streamline things considerably.

  • You are missing another usual Illinois General Assembly technique, putting conditions on the "must" that make it illusory.*

    For instance, Wi-fi on Metra, is subject to "if it can be provided at no cost to Metra." If it can't, not, and, if Chris points out, there must have already been discussions on this, then the mandate is unnecessary.

    I already mentioned how Pace has its "vehicle arrival information system," which appears to be mandated by that law, and how it is ineffective. If that complies with the law, the legislature accomplished little, either.

    I usually point out that one can only rely on the original text of the law, but clicking Grid Chicago and then clicking its HB 3597 link indicates that their summary is accurate.

    *A lot of that was used in the 2008 RTA Act, including 70 ILCS 3615/2.12b providing that an investigation of service coordination requires 9 votes from the board, and 70 ILCS 3615/2.01a, which requires 12 votes for the RTA to take over an alternatives analysis, notwithstanding that something like the Yellow Line one affects a community that objected.

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