Our local transit system wants to spend $723 million on a “fare collection system” (i.e., cash registers): “The MBTA has a $723m plan to change the way you pay for rides” (Boston Globe).
What’s interesting about spending three quarters of a billion dollars of taxpayer money? The system’s annual revenue was $577 million in 2014 (dot.gov).
In other words, in the best case scenario in which there are no cost overruns, the MBTA will spend more than a year of revenue on hardware, software, and maintenance to collect revenue.
[The system being discarded in favor of this new $723 million one is the CharlieCard, launched 11 years ago. How broken is the old system? The Globe article says
The 36 MBTA union electricians who service the fare system would no longer be needed once Cubic takes over. But Ramirez said none would be laid off and could take on new jobs working on improving the T’s signals and other electric work that would improve the system.
If we figure that each union worker costs $400,000 per year, including pension and health care benefits, that’s about $14.4 million per year to maintain the old system. (separately, I think it is interesting that these guys who are experts at tinkering with vending machines will now be monkeying with the mission-critical signals!)]
My local Facebook friends were discussing this. Here’s an exchange:
- Me: If only someone could invent a lightweight plastic card that could be used for payment in a whole bunch of different stores and service providers.
- Friend: I made a startup years ago that tried to address this very thing. It’s not easy…
- Me: you invented the Visa card? That’s awesome !
- Friend: hahaha – I didn’t read super-closely… but – I made a system that would be able to handle use-cases like payment, check-ins (like getting on the subway or at the airport), getting points, etc. – all with one card.
Given the horrific congestion that we have on our streets daily I do wonder why we don’t make the subway free and/or give each rider a free cup of coffee and donut (raise driving tolls at peak hours to support this!). But if we must charge a fare, why not strike a deal with Visa and have everyone use a Visa or EBT card? (sell Visa cash cards in the station for those who neither have credit nor welfare)