C-Tran advances new fare system proposal

Plan includes electronic payment cards, mobile data terminals, wireless technology

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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The C-Tran Board of Directors on Tuesday advanced a proposal that could equip the agency's vehicles with a new electronic fare system.

The board approved an agreement with TriMet and Portland Streetcar, setting the stage for the entities to integrate their fare collection with similar technology. The effort centers around a concept that would allow riders to pay with special electronic cards, and install mobile data terminals and wireless communication capability on buses. C-Tran hopes the system will make fare collections more efficient for the agency and more convenient for riders.

Not all board members were sold on the idea Tuesday. Clark County Commissioner David Madore, attending his first C-Tran meeting as a board member, asked to delay action on the system. Madore said the agency would benefit from more study to make sure the concept serves customers and accomplishes C-Tran's mission.

While the agreement doesn't require a direct financial commitment from C-Tran, Madore said, "We are investing staff time in this."

Madore moved to put off the agreement until at least next month. But only two other board members agreed with him, resulting in a failed motion. A majority of the board approved the agreement soon after.

C-Tran public affairs director Scott Patterson noted the nonbinding agreement approved Tuesday doesn't commit the agency to the new system. Any party could withdraw from the agreement with 30 days' notice. And actually pulling the trigger on the new fare system would require further board action, Patterson said.

C-Tran has budgeted $2.7 million for the project, to go with $3.3 million in grant money. But TriMet alone is paying for the initial planning phase of the project, according to C-Tran.

C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm estimated roughly 80 percent of riders have pre-paid passes when they board a bus now. The other 20 percent pay fares at the door. C-Tran's current on-board fareboxes accept cash only, and drivers can't give change back.

Ganley named board chairman

Near the end of Tuesday's meeting, members named Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley as board chairman for 2013 -- just a day after it remained unclear whether Ganley would take his seat on the board at all.

Ganley represents Battle Ground and Yacolt on the board, and must be approved by both cities each year, as he has since joining the board in 1998. This year seemed to be no different, until Yacolt rescinded its endorsement of Ganley in a letter to C-Tran on Dec. 18. Instead, the Yacolt Town Council nominated its own Lewis Gerhardt.

Having the two municipalities pick two different people could have left the seat vacant until they agreed on who should fill it. But Monday, Yacolt again reversed course and re-confirmed Ganley. Gerhardt will serve as Ganley's alternate on the nine-member board.

Ganley's election as chairman was unanimous.

"I think that Bill Ganley would do a great job," Madore said.

The board named Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart as vice chairman.

CRC discussion

In later discussion, Madore called for a "two-way" conversation on the Columbia River Crossing, including the implications of last year's election. In November, voters rejected a sales tax hike that would have helped pay for light rail planned as part of the $3.5 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement.

Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith said the topic is likely to come up during a board workshop meeting set for February.

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