Phoenix bus system keeps moving but software bugs linger

Bus fare collection boxes rejected paper money, needed software updates

Almost a year after deploying new computerized fare collection boxes in about 800 regional transit buses around Phoenix, the city's Public Transit Department is still working to eliminate lingering software bugs that plague the system.

Jeff Dolfini, the city's deputy transit director, said the problems began last December when the new system went live. The problems centered around several software issues, including one module that controls a sensor that "reads" paper money to be sure it is authentic and to determine its value.

The machines were rejecting a large number of paper bills, leading to delays and uncollected fares. Other software problems were making it difficult for the fareboxes to issue day passes for bus riders, as well as related transactions, Dolfini said.

"The software wasn't working properly, so it was rejecting a huge number of dollar bills," he said. The system's vendor, Scheidt and Bachmann GmbH of Monchengladbach, Germany, initially turned off the sensor, then made fixes to correct the problem, he said. "We're now getting 96% to 97% [bill] acceptance on the buses now." Some paper jamming issues remain, but Dolfini said he's not sure if they are software related.

The city's Public Transit Department has been overseeing the $12 million farebox replacement project for all transit agencies within Valley Metro, the regional public transportation authority for the Phoenix metro area. Those agencies have a combined total of about 800 buses that are using the new system.

An estimated 60 million riders will use the buses this fiscal year, according to the authority. The problems with the farebox system was recently reported by The Arizona Republic newspaper. The problems led to drivers waving passengers on without collecting fares, delays when fare glitches are experienced by riders and other complications, according to the report.

Dolfini said that his agency has been working since the system was installed last November to resolve the software problems. He said the vendor has generally been diligent in getting things to work as planned.

A spokesman for Scheidt and Bachmann could not be reached for comment at deadline.

"Most of this is now fixed," he said. Some earlier problems, such as screen freezes and operational control unit freezes enroute, turned out to be issues related to the embedded Microsoft Windows XP operating systems used by the fareboxes, he said.

"We would have preferred to have a few less problems, though we expected we'd have some problems," he said.

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