Atlanta Streetcar free to ride this year because Breeze card isn’t feasible, city says

By David Pendered

The Atlanta Streetcar will be free to ride through 2015 because there is no economical way to collect a fare. That’s because MARTA’s Breeze card technology isn’t feasible to use, Atlanta’s commissioner of the Public Works Department said Wednesday.

Atlanta Streetcar

The Atlanta Streetcar will be free to ride this year because that’s cheaper than installing and using MARTA’s Breeze card technology, according to Atlanta’s public works commissioner. File/ Credit: facebook.com/AtlantaStreetcar

Mayor Kasim Reed said last month, at the annual meeting of Central Atlanta Progress, he had decided to waive the fare for the rest of 2015 after learning during a trip to Israel of new types of fare collection technology.

Reed also said the Atlanta Streetcar is on track to meet its 2015 budget without relying on the projected $300,000 in revenues from the fare.

Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza told the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee Wednesday morning that Atlanta and MARTA need at least through the end of the year to review and choose technology to collect fares.

“One of the drawbacks of the current technology is the background software support, to extend to the streetcar, offsets all the revenue we get from the $1 fare,” Mendoza said. “We have to come up with a lot better fee technology.”

Another problem is that customers aren’t likely to make the effort that’s required to get the Breeze card to function on the Streetcar, Mendoza said.

“MARTA is looking at the current technology, it’s antiquated,” Commissioner Richard Mendoza said. “”It order to utilize that, the passengers are having to go through a 10- to 11-step process and, frankly, folks aren’t going to go through that cumbersome a process to access the fare and utilize the Streetcar.”

Atlanta Streetcar

The Atlanta Streetcar opened to great fanfare on Dec. 31, 2014.

Mendoza said the city and MARTA have been working for six months on the issue of fare collection technology. In the past 45 days, the city determined that the Breeze card is not appropriate for the Streetcar.

Mendoza also said the cost of the Streetcar is tracking $870,000 below budget because service started later than expected. Consequently, the lost of the projected fare box revenue won’t cause cost overruns.

“Due to offsets due to late starts, we’re actually trending $870,000 under the proposed budget for this year,” Mendoza said. “Those costs [lost fare collections] will be absorbed in the current operational budget without any impact further down the road.”

Katrina Taylor Parks, Reed’s deputy chief of staff, said the administration made a deliberate decision to waive fares when officials discovered the depth of the technological issue.

“MARTA had the hardware under their purview and that item was not ready,” Taylor Parks said. “It’s not just the Breeze card, but machines to go with the Breeze card. It was not a random decision. It is totally based on the current circumstances.”

Transportation Committee Chairperson Felicia Moore and Councilmember Alex Wan expressed dismay that the administration had not notified the council of the problem.

“There was not an announcement that there was an issue,” Moore said.

“When I ask you to give a report, that’s a good time for you to give us information,” Moore said. “If you had told us about this awhile back … at least we could have said we had heard about it.”

Mendoza responded that he had not notified the Transportation Committee of the issue. He reiterated that the department had been working to resolve the problem, though attention was focused on getting the Streetcar up and running.

“That disappoints me,” Wan said. “It’s not like the Streetcar was a surprise we got on Christmas day from Santa.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

9 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Another road to Emmaus experience after the thing goes into service. Another prime example of lack of planning and expertise by the City.Report

    Reply
  2. Implement Then Plan Ha says:

    There goes Felicia Moore again, demanding accountability, communication and common sense. She must be a thorn in the side to Kasim Reed’s administration.Report

    Reply
  3. mnst says:

    What’s with the attempt to blame MARTA for this change? I’ve seen Breeze card machines installed at several stops. I’ve ridden streetcars that use the same card as the metro system before. It just prints out a proof of payment that you show on board if you’re asked. Why over complicate things? Why build our own app? Why not just add NFC support so people can pay with their phones like they do elsewhere? And lastly why is the city even running this thing? Let MARTA handle it, they’re the best run government agency in the city.Report

    Reply
  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    mnst  When you find you have screwed up, don’t hang your head in shame – hold your head up, high and proud, and find someone else to blame.
    The City of Atlanta decided to manage the Streetcar itself and rejected MARTA’s offer. Now that the City has monumentally mismanaged it, they have some chutzpah to blame MARTA for their self-inflicted problems.
    Ivan Allen, Jr. was the last of the old mayors and was the last of the good mayors. Under the old mayors, City government was corrupt but it was fairly efficient and it worked. Since Allen, City government has become monumentally corrupt and monumentally inefficient, and nothing works.Report

    Reply
  5. Guest says:

    Tim Borchers is leaving town before the real shite hits the fans on this Kasim Reed inspired retro Pink Pig thingy.  Borchers knows where the bodies are buried.Report

    Reply

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