"WE LEARNT THE LESSONS FROM THE IMPLEMENTATION OF "ONAY"- NOW ASTANA IS READY TO RUN THE ELECTRONIC SYSTEM OF FARE PAYMENT
Tamara Vaal, Astana, Vlast. Photo of the author.
In Astana, 86 buses will be transferred to an electronic system of fare payment «Astra Plat» from May 31.On Thursday, responsible engineers of "Astana LRT» LLP will test the system. To encourage and make using the plastic cards more incentive, the company has come up with a number of bonuses, which will last until the end of August. Sergey Popov, the head of the Center for payment systems of "Astana LRT» LLP, told in his interview to Vlast how the new system will work and why it is more convenient in comparison with the old one.
- The first stage of the e-fare system will be launched in a few weeks. Please tell us about the preparation.
- Currently the equipment and cabling is being installed for all buses - suburban, express, and city routes. In addition to the e-fare system, the bus is equipped with the operator system, information system, system for counting passengers, and the system of electronic fare that operate as a single package. These systems are being installed. Currently, about 480 buses are ready for the installation. Part of the equipment has been already installed, and part it will be "fixed" at the last moment. Why don’t we want to install it in advance, before the system will be implemented? It might be explained by mere vandalism. People can stick gum, scratch the equipment and so on, until it is not connected, we cannot control anything. But, on the whole the work is in progress, the servers have been installed, the software has been set up, the localization has been accomplished - Russian, Kazakh, English. And FAT-testing will begin on 28 April.
- Does it mean that from April 28 the buses will run along the city?
- Yes, several fully-equipped buses will travel around the city. But so far they will drive without passengers, with the engineers that will simulate all possible situations
- And in May e-fare system will be applied in 480 buses?
- No, only 86 buses will be launched in May, 15 suburban routes and six express buses. It is important to note that people will be able to pay cash to the driver, getting a paper ticket. All this will be recorded in the driving system. This prevents that the money will go into the pocket. As soon as the driver prints a ticket, we see, respectively, he should return the money. Tickets will be made of paper, if you pay in cash, and there will be cards. In addition, in the first phase we give beneficiaries and students the cards free of charge. We do not donate. At this point they are 67,000 beneficiaries and 88,000 students. In the future, it will be an ordinary procedure: start a school - get a card, no longer a schoolboy - buy a regular card, became a beneficiary - get a card. If lost - come to restore.
- And how will this system work for temporary use? For example, in a library you take a book on the security of a reader card, but here?
- No, no security. Since we are a state-owned company, we just give this card to use. The only condition is that they must restore the card if it is lost it at their own expense.
- At the same time, schoolchildren will have 50% discount ....
- In the first stage, to promote the use of electronic cards and to collect statistics, we do a promotional campaign that all students who have a card will travel for free up to 31 August in all buses, which have installed validators. It means that before the start of the school year, we will release them all to pay fare, but only if they have a card.
- Where can they get these cards?
- They are still being produced, and as soon as they are ready, we will just distribute them to the schools, to the decision-makers - head teachers and teachers who will distribute them to the schoolchildren. Last year, as you remember, we collected data, determined the places where the beneficiaries were photographed, went to schools. And everyone who submitted documents and was photographed, will use their cards from 31 May. Beneficiaries, respectively, will travel for free by buses and express buses, the students - until 31 August for free. After August 31 - in accordance with the law – with available 50% discount.
- You do not cancel a payment in cash, the driver will have a terminal for issuing tickets. As for the cards, where will they be available?
- Our consultants will work in the buses, and one can purchase a card from them, and in the future to fill the balance of it. Now it is being elaborated, but people will receive certain bonuses for refilling the card, so it will be beneficial to use an electronic system. But the greatest profit for a passenger is an opportunity to change buses without paying. At the first stage we are talking about the fact that people who come to the city and take advantage of e-card will be able to make one travel for free on the bus, equipped with the same system.
- For instance, in Turkey there are terminals for purchasing and refilling balance of the cards at every stop. What about us?
- At the first stage about 30 terminals will be set at the key bus stops of the city with a large volume of passenger traffic, as well as in major shopping centers. The same principle will work for 25 cash desks and 10 ticket-offices – these are offices, where it will be possible to get a new card, as well as buy and refill it. In addition, we are working on the issue of payment systems, and we have even provided own web portal, which is under development, where it will be possible to pay by bank cards.
-.How will all these terminals be protected? Because we have already faced with the same situation of heated stops, which were plundered and broken....
- In fact, everything is protected against cracking. Within the project, we envisage that those stops with terminals will be equipped with video surveillance system.
- It was voiced repeatedly that about 30-40% of the fare stayed into the pockets of drivers. As soon as the electronic system is implemented, how will this be monitored? For example, a man gets on the bus, but the card is not used, respectively, you would not be able to control it?
- For this purpose, a Transport Control Service has been established. Inspectors have a special device, they get on the bus, use their card against the validator, the validator is switched off and goes into the test mode. Accordingly, the inspector can come to any passenger and ask to use a card or a ticket to this device or to the validator and check whether the passenger has made a payment or not. Everything is displayed immediately.
- When "Onay" payment system was introduced in Almaty, there were a lot of complaints, claims and scandals. Do you expect anything similar in Astana or will it be implemented more smoothly?
- It is worth noting that prior to the introduction of an electronic system, we have taken into account a few things. The first large scandal in Almaty was related to the fact that the cash payment was cancelled immediately. A person on the bus without a card was an outlaw. We don’t have this point. The second is that "Astana LRT» oversees all city passenger transport. We do not have private traders, who travel on their own, but there are many in Almaty. And the problem is that no one can force them to install equipment, include it in the system, and they set the tariff themselves. And no one can do anything. We are all missing all this. We have contracted everybody; they have routes approved by the Mayor’s Office. Therefore, the implementation is massive and within the law.
- And yet, if we talk in more details about the timing of the project. When will it be fully implemented?
- From May 31 to the end of July - this is the first stage where people will get used to the electronic system of fare payment. Then, before the end of August is the second stage. Why do not we start right away? Because the example of many cities and countries, experience has shown that if this is done in one stage, it is strongly rejected by society. Thus, till 1 September it should be realized. It means we have a planned release - every day about 886 buses will be on the line. In addition a certain reserve should be taken into account, someone might break down and so on. So, the system will start on May 31 and the whole city will be covered in September. But I want to emphasize that even in September we will not cancel the cash payment.
- What do you think to what extent will it be difficult for the population to get used to this system?
- I think it is not difficult, given that absolutely nothing need to be done, even it is not necessary to take out a card. If it is, for example, in a handbag – touch the validator and that’s all. The transaction takes less than one hundred milliseconds, so I think people are very quickly become accustomed.