RFTA trades punches for swipes

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – As the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority moves toward the debut of its VelociRFTA service, the agency’s punch pass has become a dinosaur. Its extinction is imminent.

RFTA has launched a new system featuring “value-loaded” bus cards and 30-day zone-pass cards that speed up the process of handling fare payment as passengers board a bus.

The new technology does not involve holding a punch pass up to the light to see if any unpunched spots remain, wallets crammed with passes that have just one unused punch left, hanging chads or frustrated bus drivers wielding recalcitrant hole punches.

“We’re glad to see them go,” said RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship.

Though they’re no longer for sale, punch passes will be accepted through June to give anyone who has one tucked away somewhere time to use it up.

Replacing the punch pass is the value-loaded card, available at $20 and $40 values. Like the old 40-punch pass, the $40 card costs $29.50. Each fare paid with the card is discounted by 25 percent compared with what a cash fare would cost.

“It’s just like the old punch pass, only we don’t have to punch it,” Blankenship said.

Passengers using the new cards must let the driver know their destinations, just as they did with a punch pass. Then, after the driver keys the destination into the farebox, the passenger inserts the card into a slot on top. The card disappears momentarily and then pops back up; the fare has been subtracted from the remaining value loaded onto the laminated, paper card.

A magnetic strip on the back contains information about the balance on the card; with each use, the remaining value is printed on the back.

The fare and value remaining on the card also appear in a lighted display on the farebox during the transaction. For example, a passenger getting on in El Jebel with a new $40 card will see the $5 fare and new balance of $35 in the lighted display. Because the card is sold at a discounted price, however, the ride actually costs $3.50.

The 30-day zone pass is available for varying prices depending on where a commuter is traveling to and from. Someone who rides between Aspen and Basalt regularly can purchase a card for that zone (for $120) that is good for unlimited rides during a 30-day period. The card isn’t tied to the beginning and end dates of a calendar month; it’s simply valid for 30 days starting with its first use.

A passenger drops the zone pass into the farebox slot for its initial use to activate it and print an expiration date on the back. After that, riders can simply swipe the card through the card-reader slot each time they board.

The new bus cards are a precursor to RFTA’s planned bus-rapid-transit system, to be called VelociRFTA, which is due to begin full service in September 2013. The speedier system of collecting fares is part of the approach to providing faster travel times for VelociRFTA riders.

Any RFTA regular who’s watched riders pull crumpled dollar bills from their pockets and try to feed them into the farebox, however, knows that cash can put a crimp in quick fare collection. Cash fares will continue to be accepted.

“If people would have their bills all unwadded and straightened out and put them in individually, that will make the proceedings move more quickly, as well,” Blankenship said.

The new cards are available at Rubey Park in Aspen and other outlets where punch passes were sold. In addition, they’ll be available from vending machines at the new stations being constructed for VelociRFTA.

Brochures on how to use the new fareboxes and cards are available from Rubey Park and on RFTA buses.