Fare Machine Outages at NYC Transit Select Bus Service Stops
In 2008, MTA New York City Transit (Transit) and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) established the first Select Bus Service (SBS), located in the Bronx, to expedite travel using innovative techniques such as off-board ticket machines. Customers on these lines pay before boarding, mostly by using MetroCard Fare Collectors (MFCs), and fare evasion is monitored by inspectors.
Although these MFCs regularly receive preventive maintenance, electrical outages periodically cause all the MFCs at a given stop to be out of service for prolonged periods. In the 12-month period ending September 30, 2015, 16 percent of SBS stops suffered an electrical outage lasting at least four days. Given that about 97 percent of customers use MFCs to obtain tickets and Transit has no workable provision for alternate payment, these outages are a serious challenge to a system built around the requirement of payment at the bus stop before boarding. Not only do the outages inconvenience customers, they also facilitate fare evasion and hamper enforcement.
At the time of our audit, the agency’s policy required customers boarding at a stop with no working MFCs to disembark at the next stop to obtain their tickets, a further customer inconvenience, especially since the policy directs that Bus operators are responsible to continue service according to the schedule, and customers may have to wait for the following bus. We found that this policy was burdensome and unfair to customers. While Transit’s SBS ticket inspectors told us they do not strictly enforce the policy, it is not a sound practice to have an unreasonable policy tempered only by discretionary enforcement. As a bottom line, customers simply should not be penalized for problems beyond their control.