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No Timeline For Delayed MBTA Fare Collection System

A rendering of how the fare gates would look under the MBTA's proposed new fare collection system. (Courtesy MBTA)
A rendering of how the fare gates would look under the MBTA's proposed new fare collection system. (Courtesy MBTA)

MBTA officials remained tight-lipped on Monday about the exact reasons for an expected delay in the roll out of an all-electronic fare collection system that T officials initially planned to have in place by 2021.

General Manager Steve Poftak told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that the schedule to implement the technology was "currently being revised." The company hired to create the system, Cubic, told investors on Thursday that it would need to adjust timelines, according to the Boston Globe.

Poftak declined to outline a new schedule, saying he did not have "concrete details" on how the plan would be adjusted going forward and that MBTA officials were in discussion with Cubic. Speaking with reporters after the meeting, he also declined to explain what prompted the delay, describing it only as a problem "with the complexity of the technology we're asking for and the complexity of the whole project itself."

"We're in an active negotiation with Cubic, so I don't think it makes sense for us to lay out in great detail what's going on," Poftak said. "But it is something we're actively working on. Both sides are actively talking here, and we hope to get some resolution in a reasonable period of time."

The $700 million project, often referred to as AFC 2.0, is a key focus for the MBTA. Once implemented, officials say riders will be able to tap a card or smartphone to board any type of transit, including the use of any door on buses and street-level Green Line trolleys. Customers can also maintain their account values all in one place.

In addition to more efficient travel, MBTA officials also hope to recoup revenue lost every year to unpaid fares, and could explore more sophisticated fare pricing strategies. The latest estimate indicated between $10 million and $20 million goes uncollected every year, particularly on the commuter rail and Green Line, where tickets are sometimes not checked on crowded trains.

"This is a big project," Poftak said Monday. "Literally every customer will interact with it every day. It touches all of our stations, all of our vehicles. We need to make sure we get it done properly."

The existing fare collection model will remain in place indefinitely until all issues with AFC 2.0 are resolved, Poftak told the board. However, despite the delay, there is no major financial implication, he said — the MBTA's contract with Cubic ensures that the company is not fully paid until delivery of the product.

"I'm delighted we have a very strong contract in place that puts us in a very good position to reorient everything the way we want to reorient it," said Joseph Aiello, chairman of the FMCB. "We've got to get the policy and some of the soft-side implementation pieces right."

A representative for Cubic could not be reached for immediate comment Monday afternoon.

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