munitickets.jpgHey, remember when Muni head Nat Ford said that they were planning to install machines in the subway that would let you put your fare on a credit card? And that they were planning to identify a vendor to supply the machines by summer of 2007? Well, good news: they haven’t given up! New estimate: 2011ish. For real this time.

Everyone knows that Muni’s current change-machine setup is insanely frustrating. Even C.W. Nevius took a break from confiscating frisbees that land on his lawn so that he could cluck his tongue this morning at the weird bill-changers. Muni spokesman Judson True is all too familiar with this lament: “It can’t happen soon enough for us or our customers,” he told us, in reference to the installation of new change-dispensing, ticket-vending, Translinking, and faregating equipment.

Oh yes, about that equipment. They’re getting tens of millions in stimulus package funds, and the money will be used to install 40 machines down in the subway stations, as well as a couple more out on 19th Ave, along the T-Third, and (Greg will be delighted to learn) possibly even along the N-Judah. Those machines will appear in about a year, at a price of about $40,000. But there’s much more to the project: Muni’s also planning to install ticket machines, fare gates, and smarter Translinkage — their vision is that, someday, you can just waltz on over to the light rail with whatever payment you prefer, and pay your fare with minimal mussing and fussing. You know, like how it works in most cities.

But like we said, some parts of this project are years away. The change machines are supposed to pop up in about a year; and ticket-vending machines may appear a year or two after that (at a price of $11,000,000). The immediate benefit to frustrated riders will be enormous, but there’s a hidden benefit to Muni as well: they’re hoping that this new equipment will make it easier for them to collect data on ridership. Currently (you’ll be shocked to hear) they hardly gather any data at all. But replacing the old, loosey-goosey system with something more automated and electronic may help them to someday understand ridership patterns, and adjust service to better suit their customers. And by customers, we mean owners.

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