First Impression–Connect Card

Late last month, I received my Connect Card from Port Authority of Allegheny County. I am not going to go in how this should had been doing 10 years ago, or how I had to wait almost 3 weeks before I could have started using it, but this is in focus on my first impression of the card, and what I think should be improved on.

Fares

First, this card is intended to replace the need to carry cash for fares. It also replaces the need to have bus passes. However, this is not yet fully implemented. It would seem as if you still have to carry cash or bus tickets if you wish to pay for a transfer. Add this to the effect that some drivers didn’t understand this, only made things more confusing. So, this will mean that when I go to add funds to my card, I will also have to get a book of cash value tickets that will be for when I get a transfer.

In addition, the fare box seems to hiccup and panic when you try to pay with both the connect card, and cash (such as when you have to get a transfer). This means that you will be more likely to get cash value tickets, and hand those tickets to the driver.

Now, Port Authority said they will be adding the option to get a transfer, but hadn’t yet done so with regards to the fare boxes. This is strange since the transfer is very important in the pay per use system.

My thoughts is since the transfer last three hours, and Port Authority obviously can have a record of the card’s use – this might make more sense.

  • Charge Appropriate fare on the first trip.
  • If the second trip is 3 hours or less, deduct $1 (or 50¢ for ½ fare).
  • Charge the price with the deduction.

This will reduce the need for a transfer, and eventually Port Authority can remove the need for paper transfers all together – encouraging people to use the Connect Card.

Balance and funds

Right now, there are very limited places to add funds. Some of the initial places are not yet active, and there are many more places to get tickets than there are to handle the card. In addition, there are just as limited of ways of finding out your card balance. This makes adding funds to the Connect Card inconvenient unless you go by those select areas regularly. And if you want a pass, you are just more likely to go to a more convenient place to buy a paper pass than you are to add funds to your connect card.

Hopefully, by the time this post is published, all of the initial places are online. However, the only way to find out your balance is to quickly read the display on the fare box when you use the card, use a vendor machine (if it is available), or go to the service center in Downtown. Online viewing is supposed to be available in the future, but of course no time frame.

What I feel should be done is there should be an online system to not only show the balance, but a transaction history. In addition, if the vendors are the way the Port Authority wishes you to fill the cards, they should make them more widely available. Another option is to work with the local banks to allow funds to be transferred with the ATM machine. If such is made with PNC Bank ™ – than a person will just have to register their account with the Connect Card – go to any PNC ATM (even if that isn’t your bank), and offer a means to add funds from the account to the Connect Card. PNC Bank will not charge for the transaction, and this will increase options for busy commuters. Needless to say, it will likely be the bank the Port Authority currently uses for their accounts. Online, and automatic systems will be nice too. Allow a person to add funds to their connect card by using a credit card, or auto-fill in increments of $10 when the account drops below a certain amount.

Security

This is something that Port Authority has done right by requiring all on the pilot program to register their card. If it is lost or stolen, the card can be replaced including the balance. However, the security question (only one available) is not very secured.

There should have been a way to allow Port Authority to call the customer in question with a registered telephone number to complete the reporting. This way if someone tried to report the card lost or stolen and knows the security question, Port Authority will simply call me and ask if I reported the card lost/stolen. If yes, they will deactivate the card and send a new one.

There should also be a way to manage the card online, including creating a security question of your own, changing email, mailing address, and telephone number. It is very unlikely a person will have their card, and phone stolen at the same time.

The Future

One, my Connect Card has an expiration date. This is stupid. Now, if they will be upgrading the systems, I can maybe see that, but one could simply start requiring new cards to be used if that is the case. However, there are a few other things that could be done.

First, those with a disabled card pass should have their photo on the card. This will reduce pass fraud, and make it harder for stolen half fare cards to be used. In addition, it would seem to offer a simpler, and less costly system if the readers will support NFC. NFC will allow a person to link their phone, or tablet with a debit card, or bank account, and pay for their fare directly. Those with passes will also benefit. This will replace the need for that customer to have a card entirely, and will reduce the number of cards the Port Authority has to make, and will reduce the number of things the customer has to carry.

While NFC isn’t popular now, it is the way of the future. By Port Authority jumping in on this system, it will mean that Port Authority will be better prepared for the future. If needed, a smart phone app will be produced to connect the Port Authority fare system with the NFC capabilities of the phone/tablet.

Verdict

This system is still in BETA, so I am willing to give it some consideration of that. The fact the Connect Card is coming into place, it should remove the need to produce passes, tickets, and if Port Authority is smart about it – transfers as well. Port Authority still has some things that need to be done. Adding funds and checking balance should have been more simple out of the door. Port Authority started the program half assed, and they had time to get it started better.

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