There are only two ways to collect fares from passengers - before they get onto the train or once they are on the train. If must be remembered that if there is a way for fares not to be paid, they will not be paid. The method often adopted is to collect fares on trains but this may not be effective for high capacity trains with short distances between stations. In this case the simplest and most effective method is to collect fares before trains are boarded. This is best effected by automatic fare collection (AFC).
Automatic Fare Collection (AFC)
In an attempt to cut down on the ever increasing fraud by passengers and staff, more and more high capacity railways are installing automatic fare collection, commonly known as AFC or, in some places ARC, automatic revenue collection. AFC has two advantages: It automates the ticket accounting and selling processes and it can give detailed data on system usage. It also reduces ticketless travel, although it never completely eliminates it, and it allows more revenue to be collected without employing an army of staff.
The elements of AFC are:
- Ticket vending machines (TVMs), where passengers can buy a ticket for their journey
- Ticket office machines (TOMs), used by railway staff to issue tickets at stations
- Add value machines (AVMs), where passengers having a stored value ticket can increase the residual value.
- Faregates, which form a barrier between the "unpaid" area of the station and the "paid" area where passengers must possess a valid ticket. The faregate will read and release the gate when a valid ticket is presented.
- Tickets, which come in a number of varieties (according to the system in use) but which all have an electronically encoded data content indicating the validity and/or use of the ticket.
- A computerised accounting and management system, which consists of a station computer for each station and a central computer linked to all the stations.
The AFC elements are all linked electronically, so that each transaction is recorded and can be accounted for against sales income.
Tickets are sold from manned ticket offices or TVMs stategically positioned around the entrances to the station. The location of TVMs is important so that they are easily seen, easy to access and are not located in places where queues will obstruct the free flow of passengers or where safety is jeopardised. TVMs should not be placed close to escalators, stairs or doorways but they should be within sight of the ticket office staff so that problems can be dealt with quickly and easily.
One of the objectives of AFC is to reduce the amount of manual transactions to a minimum. For a high capacity railway, where thousands of passengers may pass through one station in an hour, keeping queues to a minimum is essential, both for commercial and safety reasons. People don't like to be kept waiting to buy a ticket and large numbers of standing passengers will quickly cause an obstruction in the circulating areas of a station. The location and size of the ticket offices in a station are therefore critical. They must be designed in conjunction with the number and location of the TVMs to be provided.
It is good practice to locate a ticket office at the gate line where passengers pass through the faregates from the "unpaid" area to the "paid" area of the station. This allows the ticket clerk to view problems with gates and to operate gate release control when necessary. It will also be a safety requirement that gates can be released quickly for evauation purposes. If the ticket office is correctly located, passengers with ticket problems can approach the office from either side and the office can be more efficiently manned. Where possible, ticket selling should be restricted to one office to keep staffing requirements to an efficient level. Larger, heavily used stations will require more than one office but this may need to be manned only on a part time basis.
There are two main types of ticket used in AFC systems - the single journey ticket and the stored value ticket. Smart cards, recently introduced for some mass transit systems, are an electronic form of stored value ticket. The single journey ticket is essential for the occasional traveller or visitor to the system. The ticket is good for one journey. Normally, the ticket is inserted into the entering faregate and the gate released if valid. The same ticket is used to exit the destination station but it will be retained by the exit gate.
It is becoming the practice on many systems, to restrict the sales of single journey tickets to TVMs. If passengers ask for a signle journey ticket at the ticket office, they will be directed to use the TVM. Change may or may not be offered according to the policy of the operator. In Bangkok, the new metro system has to employ extra staff to give change for TVMs at busy times.
The purpose of an AFC system is to ensure that every passenger has a valid ticket when he enters the railway and that he pays the correct fare for the journey he has made. The most effective way of doing this is to impose a barrier of faregates across the station entrance which will only allow passengers with valid tickets to enter the system and board a train.
Many European railways have semi-automated fare collection systems, where tickets are purchased in advance of the trip and then "validated" (usually time stamped) at a machine at the entrance to the "paid area". There are no faregates and no physical restrictions on entry. Policing the system is by roving ticket inspectors who are able to impose on the spot penalty fares for passengers without valid tickets.
A penalty fare system is used in the UK on suburban lines around London in an attempt to reduce fraudlent travel. It is detested by honest passengers who get caught up in the system, usually because of undermanned or closed ticket offices and inoperative TVMs. In an attempt to further reduce fraud, faregates are being installed in many inner London stations.
In some cities, tokens are used in place of tickets. Barriers or gates released by the insertion of a token are used to allow access. The token is retained by the machine upon entry. One-way release gates are used to allow egress. It is difficult to police and there is often fraudulent use of exit gates. Tokens work where a flat fare is in place and were perhaps most famous in New York City where the token survived for over 45 years until recently, when it was replaced by a stored value card AFC system.
New fare collection systems are now using smart cards. This is simply a debit card which operates a reader at each faregate approached. The reader will open the gate and record the start point of the journey and then record the exit point and deduct the required fare.
Smart cards were first introduced in Hong Kong in 1997 with the name "Octopus" and have since spread to London (Oyster) and other major metro systems. Washington DC WMARTA system started their SmarTrip system on Metro stations in May 1999 and extended it to buses with a 9-month trial which started in late 2001. Buses were completed in August 2004. Car parking was converted to smart card operation in June 2004. Perhaps one downside to the system is the ability to add value by a cash payment on the bus. This will delay the loading while passengers add value to their cards.
Octopus Cards, the smart-card issuer controlled by MTR Corp, has about 11.1 million cards in circulation, with an average of 8.7 million transactions per day, valued at HK$60 million. More than 10 per cent of its sales volume is by retail purchase. London has adopted a similar system called "Oyster".
Links to Websites on AFC
AFC on London Underground Railways by Mike Horne - a useful history of fare collection systems in London up to 2003.
A collection of photos from Skyscraper City - showing various type of faregates and ticket vending machines around the world. This is a forum with a subtitle of "Automatic Fare Collection Gates In Your City's Metro".