While rummaging in my box of old odds-and-ends, I came across something that reminded me that I should make a short post about the automatic fare collection (AFC) systems on Sydney buses.
In almost all Sydney Buses today, we still see the familiar wedge shaped beige system known as the Datafare 2000. I believe this was made by AES Prodata, which was a subsidiary of ERG – a fairly famous Australian smart-card systems company. The system is now fairly old – it featured a two-line monochrome backlit LCD display with a keypad reminiscent of old desktop calculators. It would generate thermal prints on receipt paper – and was capable of interfacing to ticket readers of various sorts. Bus drivers would log on and have their takings recorded on a contact-type smart-card (similar to that of a credit-card sized SIM card, or Telstra phonecard). Most private bus operators used this machine as well, despite its temperament – sometimes they would lock up and take many minutes to perform a reset. Loading paper into one of these still flummoxes some bus drivers … and the slot in the lid sometimes didn’t align with the mechanism or popped open when going over bumps.
Funnily enough, ERG was also responsible for our failed T-card system – a first foray into NFC based ticketing which happened around 2007 onwards (when I was in high school). It was mainly used to audit free student travel to ensure people weren’t bringing their friends along for a free ride. I had a T-card myself, but that’s now long lost.
The green magnetic stripe readers, also known as TRs (short for Ticket Readers) were definitely made by AES Prodata. In fact, you can sometimes see the grey-and-blue logo stuck on the bottom corner of the front side of these readers. These readers were only fitted on Sydney Buses – no private bus operators I have seen have used them. Because of the use of paper magnetic stripe tickets, they were prone to dirty/worn heads, jams in feeding tickets and other mechanical malfunctions.
As such, these ticket readers are actually mounted on a quick release pedestal, and the entire unit can be lifted and hot-swapped in the field by one of the Sydney Buses maintenance crew utes, and then tended to. Normally, the first cure is just to restart the bus (as that cuts power to the reader, causing it to spit the ticket out when power is reapplied).
With the introduction of the myZone ticketing system, where private bus operators are included in weekly zone travel tickets as well as travelten bus tickets, it is a bit of a shambles when it comes to trip accounting, as the Sydney Buses systems will use the thermal backing to print ride data, and the private bus operators will have to manually use a pen to make a mark on the boxes on the front.
Now, many private bus operators have gotten rid of their Datafare 2000’s. In the Veolia buses and Hills buses that I have taken rides on recently, they have been replaced by the Parkeon Wayfarer 200. This much more modern device features a colour LCD screen and an array of blue backlit soft touch keys. The tickets come out the side of the unit and are torn off – rather than automatically cut as the old Datafare 2000 would do.
I guess it’s all in good time that we move to a contactless solution – the Opal card. In fact, I did spot Opal readers on one bus earlier. But it also seems that the Parkeon Wayfarer 200 itself is able to handle some form of contactless card ticketing too – as per the website. I wonder if the Opal system will be interoperable in this regard that different operators can deploy different equipment and still remain compatible with the new ticketing system – after all, the one Sydney Buses bus with the Opal readers still had a Datafare 2000 – not a Parkeon Wayfarer 200.
Anyway, that was kind of a detour we took there – because I found this in my drawer:
This is a diagnostic printout, probably from a shift log-on to the Datafare 2000 system on Bus #0999 (eh, maybe not, maybe this is just a generic number due to incorrect programming). But the interesting thing is just how carefully the system records everything for accounting purposes – serial numbers and firmwares of both ticket reader machines and the Datafare 2000 driver console, date and time.
The system can also be persuaded to print out ticket logs in case of suspected fare evasion or faulty ticket – by manually requesting it through the keypad and dipping the ticket into TR1. Unfortunately, many of these diagnostic printouts are kept by transit officers and bus drivers that I have never been lucky enough to collect any of them. There is also an end-of-shift report which may be used to reconcile the till (especially before the days of prepaid only running).
Just for a bit of nostalgia, Sydney Buses went to particular care with their paper stocks to offer messages on the back, shop-a-docket style:
Most of the private operators I’ve ridden on don’t seem to do this and just use plain white thermal paper stock. Just one of the few little things I find noteworthy …