MBTA says “Sorry, Charlie”

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is sending its CharlieCard fare collection system to the bottom of Boston Harbor and replacing it with state-of-the-art technology from Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS). Cubic’s base $575 million DBOM contract includes ten years of operations and maintenance, and two five-year extension options. It’s described as “the nation’s first public-private partnership (P3)fare payment project for transit.”

CTS will design, build, operate and maintain the next-generation fare payment system, which includes account-based ticketing using mobile and contactless bankcard options. The P3, in which Cubic and its partner John Laing will arrange the funding for the implementation and operation of the new fare payment system, “has the dual advantages of helping the MBTA finance this major capital updating program while transferring key risks to the Cubic | John Laing Consortium,” CTS said.

The contract has been approved by the MBTA’s board and is subject to finalization.

John Laing is a provider of P3 projects, including numerous public transit projects. The Cubic | John Laing Consortium, selected as the preferred bidder for the new system, will implement “the first P3 fare collection project in the U.S.” Cubic will lead the implementation and design as well as operate and maintain the system upon completion.

The new system allows payment flexibility for customers including mobile payment, contactless debit or credit cards and agency-issued fare media for those without a bank card or who prefer not to use one. Additional access will be created through an extensive retail merchant network; optimum placement and types of ticket vending machines, kiosks and wide-aisle gates; an easy-to-use website for customers to review transactions, set up payment methods, enable autoloads and load value and products; and a mobile app that offers the same functionality as the website. It also allows customers to create personalized transit accounts to see ride history, check balances, add value as well as report lost or stolen cards to protect their funds. Mobile phones can also be used like ticket vending machines to check account balances and recharge fare accounts anywhere. “As a result, customers will experience greater convenience and shorter lines, allowing them to move faster through the transit system,” CTS said.

Cubic will be responsible for the design, integration, supply and implementation of the new fare payment system as well as operational and maintenance services including platform and back office hosting; card fulfillment; financial services including clearing and settlement; and the retail merchant network. Equipment will include fare validators, fare gates and vending machines for all MBTA subway and rail stations, in addition to more than 1,000 buses.

“This isn’t just the next generation of fare collection, but an entirely new way that our customers will interact with the MBTA,” said General Manager Luis Manuel Ramirez. “The new system will be compatible with all modes, provide more options for paying fares, and have more fare media available for use. While we still have much work ahead of us in educating our customers in how the system will work, today is a major step forward in our partnership with the Cubic | John Laing team to completely transform and modernize our system of fare collection.”

“We have listened to and heard what Bostonians have to say about their aspirations for a new payment system, and we understand the challenges to transition from CharlieCard to the next generation system,” said CTS President Matt Cole. “From the many focus groups we conducted, community groups we spoke with, conversations with city leaders, and other important voices of Boston’s culturally rich neighborhoods, we are confident our system design addresses the accessibility and equity concerns of all the communities served by the MBTA, many of whom said they want simplified and seamless options for travel.”

“This is an important milestone for the MBTA and for the transit industry, which recognizes the advantages of P3 procurement in delivering cost and schedule certainty,” said John Laing Primary Investment-North America Managing Director Anthony Phillips.

MBTA customers will be able to use CharlieCards during the transition. In that sense, Charlie isn’t quite “off the hook.”

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