C-Tran technological upgrades in works

New fareboxes, surveillance and communications systems will be rolled out over next two years

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

A broad upgrade of C-Tran's technology systems will change the way the agency operates -- and the way its riders use transit in Clark County -- starting later this year.

The C-Tran Board of Directors on Tuesday heard an update on a series of concurrent projects intended to improve efficiency and security by rolling out new features on buses during the next two years. Many of those efforts are already in development.

One of the most immediate changes will come in the form of new fare collection boxes, where cash-paying riders now drop change or dollar bills upon boarding a bus. C-Tran's existing fareboxes are outdated and increasingly difficult to maintain, said C-Tran technology manager Bob McMahan. Reliability can be an issue, and replacement parts are increasingly difficult to find, he said.

New fareboxes will be installed beginning later in 2013 and into next year, according to C-Tran. The goal is to eventually introduce a new fare collection system that would give riders the option of paying fares electronically with a card. C-Tran riders paying at the door today must use cash only, and drivers can't give change back.

Other planned upgrades include new on-board surveillance systems, new vehicle data terminals and communication systems. Some components of C-Tran's existing fleet are "past their economic life," said Paul Lavallee, director of project consultant IBI Group.

The entire technology upgrade will cost an estimated $7.7 million, according to C-Tran. More than half of that will be covered by various grants, with the rest coming directly from C-Tran's budget.

Board members didn't take action on the proposals Tuesday. But the plan received at least one verbal endorsement from Vancouver City Councilor Bart Hansen, himself a frequent C-Tran rider.

"This is going to be huge for the system," Hansen said.

Later this month, C-Tran will also begin testing a pilot program allowing buses to communicate with traffic signals for smoother sailing on one of the agency's busiest corridors.

The agency's Transit Signal Priority program will operate at 22 intersections along Vancouver's Mill Plain corridor, designed to give buses more "green time" along the way. Vehicle and intersection equipment has been installed, and testing will begin at the end of April. C-Tran plans to launch the pilot program in May and evaluate its performance this summer. That's when agency officials will decide whether to use similar technology elsewhere, McMahan said.

New meeting location

Tuesday's meeting was the first regular C-Tran board meeting at the Vancouver Community Library, televised live locally on CVTV. And citizens took advantage of the more spacious venue, filling the library's Columbia Room at one point. Many lined up to speak for and against the Columbia River Crossing project.

The agency hopes to hold its regular board meetings at the library as often as possible, but can't guarantee the spot long term, said Executive Director Jeff Hamm. The library doesn't accept standing reservations, and C-Tran can secure the space only if it's available month to month, he said.

The location of the board's May meeting is yet confirmed, Hamm said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.