CDTA leverages new technology to enhance social service program support and introduce passengers to smart cards

Like most transit agencies, the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) in Albany, NY, has distributed old-fashioned punch cards and, more recently, magnetic stripe fare cards to the various social service programs who rely on CDTA for their participants’ travel to and from appointments. Unlike most agencies, however, CDTA has implemented some of the latest technologies to make their social service programs more cost effective and secure, and it came from an unlikely source: gaming.

The new nano card technology Genfare is leveraging on behalf of CDTA was originally developed for entertainment venues like Dave & Buster’s and GameWorks for their arcade gaming cards, and it proved to be the perfect solution for CDTA.

Phasing Out Magnetic Cards Drives the Need

The need for a new solution arose when CDTA determined that it wanted to eliminate magnetic stripe fare media system-wide, after successfully launching the Navigator smart card solution to its passengers in 2017. In fact, CDTA has stopped selling any magnetic fare media and will no longer accept magnetic fare media effective April 1, 2018.  So, they turned to Genfare, who had engineered and implemented the Navigator success, with the challenge.

“CDTA needed a cost-effective solution for its social service programs. The smart cards that are commonly used for transit fare media cost far more than the magnetic stripe cards they have been using for the programs, so we couldn’t recommend that solution,” said Kirk Hoffman, Genfare Program Manager.  “We also knew that CDTA did not want to return to using paper script or punch cards, so we accepted the challenge and searched other industries for a solution,” said Hoffman.

What Hoffman and the Genfare team found was the new nano card technology developed by NXP.  Nano cards look and function just like a smart card, but they are significantly less expensive, because they are intended for only short-term use, like what you would find at an entertainment venue with arcade games. The technology embedded in the nano cards is not as robust as that found in a true smart card, but CDTA’s social service programs do not require long-term security or complicated technologies. The intent of the fare media is simply for a short-term purpose: getting to and from an appointment or travelling CDTA’s system for just one day.

Piloting the Nano Card System to Support Social Service Programs

The team at Genfare collaborated with NXP to develop a pilot program to test the nano cards in a transit environment and to enhance the CDTA passenger experience.

“We determined quickly that the nano card solution should work quite well and could potentially be a new transit fare medium,” said Hoffman.

According to Hoffman, the pilot program did not require any changes to the hardware already installed for CDTA’s Genfare fare payment systems.  They did need to develop and load some software to accommodate the new fare medium, but the barriers to testing the nano cards proved to be minimal.

NXP agreed to supply 50,000 cards, branded with CDTA’s Navigator fare payment logo, that were loaded with a fare value equal to just one transit trip.  Each card is labeled and programmed with a unique serial number, so Genfare and CDTA can track each card’s use, including date and time of use and the route for which it is used.

The pilot period began in January 2018 and has already been successful. “We plan to invest in at least a year’s worth of cards to support our social service programs,” said Thomas G. Guggisberg, CDTA’s Director of Information Technology. “We hope to expand their use beyond social service programs, for other short-term applications or as a free transit pass for passengers who are new to our Navigator program and may want to give the smart card payment system a try for the first time.”

Enhancing the Passenger Experience with Collaboration and Creativity

The CDTA’s unique need resulted in a truly collaborative and creative solution from the team at Genfare. “We love the idea of researching and borrowing ideas from industries outside of transit,” said Guggisberg. “We have done that before with Genfare and other partners, but it is especially gratifying that our partners are open to solving our challenges by looking at them from a wide variety of angles.”

“We are absolutely excited to begin using the nano cards and grow it as a unique solution for the special arrangements we have and to introduce smart card technology to our new riders,” said Guggisberg.