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GRTC Takes Swipe at Ticket Cheaters

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Many bus riders do just that, GRTC officials have discovered, and so they're instituting new, magnetized swipe cards to replace traditional bus tickets.

GRTC loses $225,000 each year to fraud, says GRTC Chief Executive John Lewis, who last week presented the new Go Transit Card system to a City Council transportation committee. To demonstrate the breadth of the problem, Lewis brought with him a fat manila envelope stuffed with a week's worth of invalid tickets collected on city buses.

There are several ways for people to cheat, he says. Some take a razor blade and carefully slice the square $1 "Super Savers" tickets down the middle to create two tissue-thin tickets for the price of one. "It amazes me that people go to this amount of trouble to split a paper," Lewis says.

Vendors sometimes tear out and sell individual tickets from discount books for a premium. Some riders use the covers of ticket books as tickets or copy counterfeit tickets. Fareboxes don't scan tickets but accept anything that's the right width, Lewis explains, so it's up to bus operators to spot fakes. Most of the time, he says, the driver figures, "OK, it's purple," and that's about it.

Other riders use 10-cent transfers as tickets for a full ride, a switch not often noticed, or sell their transfers when they reach their destination.

GRTC officials decided to adopt a magnetized swipe card to prevent this type of skulduggery, similar to the cards used in Washington, D.C.'s Metro system. Starting in September, riders will be able to buy the cards at various shops in denominations of $2.50, $5 and $10. Fares are expected to remain the same: $1.25 to $1.75 on most routes.

Lewis says GRTC surveyed about 600 customers and found 74 percent said the card would be more convenient. It's also better for bus drivers, he says, because they won't have to interact as much with customers. Drivers still have to check IDs in order to give people senior and disabled fare rates.

The change won't cost GRTC anything, Lewis says, because bus fareboxes are already equipped to read the cards. The savings in eliminating fraud, he says, may aid GRTC in making up its projected $2.4 million deficit for next year, half of which is attributed to higher diesel prices. S



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