Staff Report #9
January 30, 2019
To All Commissioners
Re: Smart Card Update
That the report be NOTED and FILED.
The smart card system in use at London Transit was launched in February 2016. Initial products included monthly passes (Citipass, Weekday, Senior & Post-Secondary) issued and revalued at both LTC locations as well as via the online portal at londontransit.ca. The tuition pass program was first linked to the smart card system with Fanshawe and Western joined the following year. Student cards issued by each of the schools were modified to include a chip that interfaced with the smart card system to enable students to tap their student card to record the ride. A number of pilot projects with the City of London have recently been established and the appropriate fare programs set up to monitor applicable ridership. These include free transit for kids 12 & under – fobs that interface with the smart card system have been issued to kids enabling the tracking of ridership; income-related transit subsidized pass program – subsidized monthly passes have been made available on smart cards only (no paper passes issued for this new program); and a discounted youth transit pass – discounted monthly passes have been made available for youths aged 13-17 on smart cards only.
The smart card system is also set up to emulate the current ticket programs by way of placing a stored value on the smart card, that will deduct the value of a ticket fare each time the card is tapped to record a ride (90 minute transfers are automatically written to the smart card at time of tapping). The implementation of the stored value feature for the smart card system has been delayed given a number of issues relating to the on-line revaluing portal.
Having resolved many of the issues that remained after the implementation of the monthly pass program, it was determined that the system is now functioning in a manner that provides the opportunity to move forward with the stored value aspect of the smart card system. At the November 2018 meeting, (Staff Report #7, November 28, 2018), it was determined that the launch of the stored value would take place in January 2019 barring any unforeseen issues with a pending software update.
The pending software update was intended in part to address a potential issue relating to the stored value functionality of the smart card system. When the system was initially implemented, a decision was made to include a feature relating to the stored value functionality that allows the stored value on the card to go into a negative balance of up to $2. The basis for this decision was to ensure that a transit rider utilizing the stored value feature would not be in the position of being denied a ride in the event they were not aware there was not enough of a balance left on their card to pay for the trip. This negative balance would be recouped when the stored value on the card is replenished (if the smart card being revalued has a negative balance of $1.90 and the customer adds $20 to the card, the stored value available on that card after the transaction would be $18.10). The manner in which the smart card system determines how to deduct the appropriate fare is as follows; first the system checks to see if there is a valid pass on the card, if so, the system records the ride against the pass, if there is no valid pass on the card, the system next looks to stored value, if there is a balance on the card, that balance is reduced by the appropriate ticket fare, this deduction will be allowed to occur as long as the stored value balance does not result in a negative balance of greater than $2, if the transaction would result in a negative balance greater than $2, the smart card reader would display an “X” and indicate that no valid fare was paid. During the initial role out of monthly passes on smart cards, there were some issues experienced by some customers with respect to the pass taking longer than expected to be loaded onto the card for those transactions completed via the online portal. The primary reason for this is that internet revaluing can take up to 24 hours to become effective on the smart card. While this time delay is made clear to customers on the web portal and LTC website, there have been cases when a customer has loaded a pass online and then tapped the card the next day prior to the card being updated. This has resulted in a “stored value” deduction being made taking the card’s balance to a negative, in many cases without the customer realizing this has taken place (the on-board validator does display the current balance on the card when it is tapped, however customers using the card for only a monthly pass would not be inclined to look at the balance).
Given the significant volume of smart cards in circulation (approximately 55,000), many of which have been in use for an extended period of time, the potential exists for these cards to have a negative balance notwithstanding the fact that the stored value feature has not been implemented. In an effort to mitigate negative customer experiences relating to this issue, a software script was requested that would reset all existing smart cards in circulation to a zero balance. The software script for this reset was tested in late January and there were no issues identified. The most appropriate opportunity to reset the balances falls after the beginning of February’s initial monthly pass sales. This will ensure that any balances as a result of February pass sales will be reset.
A “soft-launch” is planned for early February where stored value will be issued and revalued at LTC locations. Newly issued cards along with cards currently in circulation (prior use as a monthly pass) will also be eligible for stored value revaluing on the online Smart Card portal.
Discussions are progressing with the City of London to expand the products offered at their locations (currently only Income-Based and Youth monthly passes are offered) to include the remaining monthly passes (Citipass, Weekday) as well as stored value in the second phase of the roll-out. The final phase is planned to involve a third party retailer that, similarly to the City of London, would revalue all LTC products at locations across the city.
Elimination of Paper Passes
Given the success and consistency in issuing and revaluing monthly passes via smart card that has continued from the last quarter of 2018, the decision to phase out the remaining paper passes was made in November with a target date for the end of Q1 2019. As of December 2018, greater than 92% of passes sold were via the smart card with less than 4% being paper passes sold at non-LTC locations. These remaining sales outlet locations (Scotiabank, White Oaks Mall kiosk, Fanshawe and Western bookstores) selling both the Citipass and Weekday paper pass were provided with a communication insert to include with February and March paper pass sales informing these customers that March will be the final month passes are available in paper format. These remaining customers will need to get a smart card from one of the LTC sales locations and after their initial monthly pass purchase will be able to renew online going forward.
In 2018, enhancements to the system were made to enable the receipt printing functionality on POS units (devices used to issue stored value and passes at all physical locations), as well as the ability to re-print online purchases made with registered cards. The federal government did eliminate the transit tax credit for all riders but the provincial government has subsequently introduced a transit tax credit for seniors. Riders purchasing a pass at physical locations and on the web will be provided with receipts sufficient to support this tax credit.
Communications pertaining to the elimination of paper passes and the launch of stored value have occurred on the website informing riders of this and will be expanded to include social media accounts and on-board posters as dates are confirmed.
Mike Gregor, Director of Finance
Concurred in by:
Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager