18Fare Systems

Buy the ticket, take the ride.Hunter S. Thompson, journalist and author, 1937–2005

Fare collection systems play a vital role in success or failure of any public transport system. Unaffordable fares and inappropriate collection methods may result in dissatisfaction and disappointment of passengers, while affordable fares, simplicity, and ease of use can attract more ridership. This chapter provides a brief description of fare collection systems. An explanation of fare structures and policies is provided in Chapter 15: Fare Policy and Structure.

Relying on the manual issue of paper tickets for fare collection involves considerable human effort, resulting in delays for customers and revenue leakage. Recent technological advances have introduced smart means of fare collection by using electronic devices, making the fare collection process faster and more secure. However, technology has its own limits that should be understood before adoption.

There are two types of fare collection processes: onboard systems, inside public transport vehicles, and off-board systems, outside the vehicles. Historically, onboard systems have functioned by means of a conductor inside the vehicle who issues paper tickets and collects cash payments. Some onboard systems make use of handheld ticketing machines that issue printed paper tickets (but still require a conductor inside the bus to issue tickets and collect the fares). Other onboard systems do not involve a conductor but require the passenger to pay a cash fare to the driver. Onboard systems may also incorporate prepayment mechanisms by means of smart card or token readers.

Off-board systems emerged as a means of handling large passenger volumes efficiently and without the inconvenience of onboard collection. Most rapid transit systems, including BRT and metros, collect fares at the station, before passengers enter the vehicle. Most successful BRT systems, such as Bogotá’s TransMilenio, rely on smart-card based, prepaid fare collection. Prepayment avoids the delays that occur when passengers need to file past the driver to pay their fares, or the inconvenience of having a conductor move through the bus and collect fares.

In general, a fare collection system must include:

  • The payment media and devices for validation of payment media;
  • Access control mechanisms;
  • A central system for information processing and report generation with communication links between system components;
  • Customer interface (signs, web pages, user complaints, etc.).

Contributors: Christoff Krogscheepers, ITS Engineers; Fabio Gordillo, GSD PLUS; Chris Kost, ITDP Africa

The sections below discuss each of these components in more detail.