Last week, I noted that the Port Authority’s T system has an unusually high number of stops compared to other systems and that all those stops help slow the system to a relative crawl. Here’s another reason — the way we pay fares.

Most light-rail systems use what  is called “proof-of-payment,” which works largely on the honor system. There is no farebox when you enter the train. You pay at a machine at the station and receive a receipt/ticket.  If you’re riding the train and you’re asked to show your receipt, you better be able to produce one or you’re in trouble.

Yes, there are people who cheat the system, don’t pay the fare, and play the percentages that a transit official won’t ask to see their ticket. But the advantage is that it greatly speeds boarding. When a train pulls up, all doors open and people can get on in any of them.

Contrast that to the T stops where only the first door opens and everyone must wait in line to go through a single door and flash their pass or put their money in the farebox under the watchful eye of the operator. That increases the time spent at each stop and slows down the overall operation.

The average T speed is barely faster than the average bus operating speed (less than 4% faster, according to the Port Authority’s report), while other systems are much faster. Portland’s light rail, for instance, is 36% faster than its companion bus network.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski