Streetcar ticket vending machines still proving to be a thorn in city's side

CINCINNATI -- It was more of the same during Tuesday's transportation committee meeting, as council members once again grilled a representative from the company that provided the streetcar's troubled ticket vending machines.

Satisfactory answers were in short supply, multiple committee members agreed.

"This is very simple technology," a frustrated Councilmember Chris Seelbach told Genfare, Inc. President Darren Dixon during Tuesday's hearing. "The fact that you're still contracted by the city, to me, is insane."

Seelbach's frustration comes from the nearly 20 streetcar ticket vending machines Genfare sold to the city, which have proven problematic since the streetcar's launch more than a year ago. Complications with ticket issuing, credit card transactions and other mechanical problems have presented an obstacle the new transit system has struggled to overcome.

Seelbach's not alone. Committee members P.G. Sittenfeld and Kevin Flynn, along with committee chair Amy Murray, all vocalized concern over the city and transit authority's mutual agreement with Genfare to provide and maintain the faulty ticket vending machines.

"These are very complicated machines," Flynn said, reiterating a point he made during a September committee meeting. "They don't need to be." 

It's a point he made more than once Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday was not the first time the vendor has appeared before council. Visits last November, last spring and just last month came prior to Tuesday's hearing, but the message hasn't seemed to change much with each visit.

Dixon delivered a detailed explanation of the nature of the ticket vending machines' problems, but failed to keep committee members' attention, who were more interested in the fix rather than the details surrounding the problem.

"We're not the ones looking under the hood and inspecting the problem," Sittenfeld said Tuesday, referring to the city's reliance on SORTA and Genfare to address the issues directly.

Flynn viewed the vending machine issues as inhibiting the streetcar from generating as much fare revenue as it could. "People aren't paying (streetcar fare) not because they don't want to pay. They aren't paying because they can't pay," he said.

Murray said she's worried Cincinnati is becoming a testing ground for Genfare to test its ability to manage streetcar vending services, pointing out that the Cincinnati streetcar is on the firm's second streetcar system.

"Are we just a guinea pig?" she asked Dixon Tuesday.

Tuesday's committee meeting culminated with a reiteration of last month's meeting's conclusion, to press the city administration toward investigating grounds for default on the intergovernmental agreement, between the city and the county-wide transit authority, dictating streetcar operations.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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