Kokua Line
June Watanabe

Thursday, May 19, 2005

City has shelved
bus smart cards

Question: What ever happened to the bus smart cards?

Answer: Without any fanfare, the "Buslink" project was canceled by the new city administration on March 16.

The 3,000 bus riders testing the computerized cards -- similar to debit cards, with fares electronically deducted for each ride -- will be able to use them likely through June, then revert back to regular bus passes.

Mary Patricia Waterhouse, director of the Department of Budget & Fiscal Services, sent a letter to the contractor on March 16 informing it that the city was "immediately terminating the smart card project," Edward Hirata, acting director of the city Department of Transportation Services, told Kokua Line yesterday.

Royal Contracting Co. had been awarded a $2.2 million, two-year contract in March 2003 to develop the system.

Last November, in announcing a three-month test of the card system, then-Managing Director Ben Lee predicted, "eventually we will have all 150,000 bus riders using the smart card." The plan was to have computerized card readers installed in all 525 city buses.

But for the time being, that won't be happening.

The reason: There are no funds in the fiscal year 2006 budget, now before the City Council, to continue the project, Hirata said.

The administration initially had budgeted $1 million for the next phase -- to broaden the numbers of riders testing the system, market the benefits of the cards to the public, pay for additional cards, and install additional hardware at sales locations, said Clyde Earl, Hirata's executive assistant.

But the project was eliminated before the budget was sent to the Council, he said.

The former city administration first began testing the smart cards last July, with 100 volunteers riding free between Waianae and downtown Honolulu. In December, it began a three-month project to test the system with riders who already had monthly bus passes through payroll deductions.

The project was going "pretty well," Earl said. "We had some software adjustments that were made that improved the dependability and reliability of the system, and we had roughly 3,000 people using the smart cards."

However, Councilman Nestor Garcia, chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee, said that while the card system was "a good idea, the execution needed some work."

He noted concerns with the contractor and "always a glitch here and there."

He said he hoped that the city could come away with something positive from the experience, such as using the software for other purposes.

Noting that other cities have already implemented similar systems, Earl said, "I think that's the way most transit systems will be looking to go in the future. So having this experience, the knowledge we've gained up to this point, will be helpful to us when we decide to do something similar in the future."


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