Report: NCTD ticket machines frequently fail

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SAN DIEGO – The San Diego County Grand Jury Wednesday blasted the North County Transit District and a contractor for customer-unfriendly ticket machines at Coaster train and Sprinter light rail stations.

During inspection trips by grand jury members, it was evident that ticket vending machines failed more often than the transit agency and contractor acknowledged, according to the report.

Meanwhile, an examination of NCTD data showed the contractor, San Diego- based Cubic Corp., not only frequently failed to report failures to the agency but also did not correct the problems in a timely fashion, the report said.

The grand jury said the data showed that ticket machines were working 94.5 percent of the time that trains were running during a two-year period ending last September. However, Cubic reported a functional average up-time of 98.6 percent, and there was no evidence that the NCTD disputed the result, the report said.

The NCTD is required to respond to the report by Aug. 29. Both the agency and Cubic declined comment.

Among the other findings:

— in many cases, passengers don’t know a machine isn’t functioning until they try to purchase a ticket, slowing them down, and in some instances, making them miss trains;

— machines aren’t considered to be out of service in data reports if the cash or coin collectors are full, even though customers would be prevented from making a ticket purchase;

— the ticket machines are unable to transmit error reports to the contractor or NCTD, leaving it up to often-hurried passengers to report failures; and

— passengers aren’t provided enough information on how to get the machines to properly read credit or debit cards.

The same types of machines are used by the Metropolitan Transit System for its trolleys.

The grand jury said the NCTD should establish clear, reasonable and measurable performance standards for the ticket machines and require the contractor to adhere to them; provide sufficient signage at the machines to encourage customers to report failures; and consider upgrading the machines to accurately indicate any cause of failure on the screens.

The panel’s other recommendations were to appropriately direct customers to other ticket machines; consider upgrading machines to electronically transmit all failures to both NCTD and its contractor; and provide adequate signage to direct customers on the proper technique of credit/debit card usage.

Last week, the grand jury took the NCTD to task for providing minimal space on Sprinter cars for the disabled, who have to share room with bicycle riders.

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