Metro board members said yesterday that the automatic entrance and exit gates that collect fares at Metro's subeay sations are unreliable and balky to the point of driving away riders.
"We are clearly losing riders and revenues," board member Francis B. Francois said. The unrelability of the Farecard fare-collecting equipment "has reached a crisis stage," he said. "The printers in the machines are not working.People are confused and mad and feel they are being cheated." Francois suggested the machines might be disconnected until they are functioning properly. The board will consider that and other suggestions next week.
Francois' speech was the most impassioned of several by board members yesterday as they heaped scorn on a system that, 18 months ago, many board members were paaising as the answer to fare-collecting and labor problems.
The Farecard system consists of several machines. One of them sells subway tickets and makes change. Tickets can be sold in any denomination from 25 cents to $20. The amount purchased is encoded on a magnetic strip on the ticket and printed on the face of the ticket.
A rider gnserts the ticket in an entrance gate. If the ticket is valid, the gate is supposed to open and let the rider in. The machine returns the ticket to the rider. Once the ride is completed, the rider inserts the ticket once again in an exit gate. The machine deducts the cost of the ride from the magnetic tape and prints the remaining value on the face of the ticket. The gate opens. If there is money left, the ticket is returned. If all the money is used up, the machine swallows the ticket.
Most regular Metro riders have at least one horro story about the system. The vendors break down, always at rush hour. The gates will not accept perfectly valid tickets. Lines back up. Tempers flare. Connecting buses are missed.
In recent weeks, an average of 10 percent of the 273 gates have been out of working order when the subway opened for business and about 15 percent of the vending machines have been out or order. Harried station attendants spend most of their time during rush hour keeping the gate operating.
"People just say, 'forget it. I don't want to foll around with that mess any more,'" board member Joseph Alexander said yesterday.
The Farecard equipment, costing $52 million, was designed for Metro to provide a system that would charfe higher fares for longer trips, but would do it without people, who presumably cost more money to maintain than machines.
Cubic Western Data, a San Diego company that manufactures the equipment, won the equipment contract from Control Data Corporation.
Cubic has been selling fare-collecting systems around the world in places as diverse as Hong Kong and Atlanta. Cubic Western's parent, the Cubic Corporation, reported record net income and sales for the third quarter and pretax profits of $11.7 million.
Thomas B. Tuttle, Cubic's project manager for Metro, said in a telephone interview yesterday that gates had been refusing to accept good tickets because new ticket stock was being used by Metro, which orders tickets based on competitive bidding.
"There was a glitch that caused a lot of perfectly good cards to be rejected," Tuttle said.
Does that mean that every time Metro changes ticket stock, the gates will have to be readjusted? "At this time, yes," Tuttle said. "BART (San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit) had the same problem, but now goes sole-source on the tickets." That means BART buys its tickets from only one company without competitive bids.
Tuttle said that, even though the warranty on some of the older Farecard equipment has expired, Cubic is going to do "whatever it takes to make that equipment work. We have no intention of stopping improvements. We're not satisfied either."
Board member Cleatus Barnett said yesterday that "We're talking about a contract in excess of $50 million. I don't want the public to lose $1."
But board chairman Joseph S. Wholey noted that "even though things are annoying and not satisfactory, we have a whole horde of riders who are using the system. We must be doing something right."