START Bus

START bus drivers have been recording ridership counts manually since July, when a malfunctioning fare system was shut down.

The electronic fare system that START purchased a year ago has been offline for three months due to defective software.

Transit officials added the system in November in an effort to make it easier for passengers to pay their fare and to collect more precise data on “the types of users” riding the bus. But its performance deteriorated over time, prompting START Director Darren Brugmann to shut it down in July.

“We have been working extensively with our vendor over the past two weeks to try to address the ongoing technical issues,” he wrote in an email, “but have been unsuccessful to date.”

Reports to the START board outline the chain of events since START first began using the system.

After the Town Council approved the purchase for $223,000 — paid with a mix of federal grant money and local funds — the vendor, RouteMatch, installed the system just in time for the 2018-19 winter season. Officials chose that company because in 2015 it installed a separate system to record data on ridership, along with hours and miles driven.

But it seems the two systems, old and new, didn’t integrate properly — “Simply put,” an August report states, “we were getting our data information from two different systems.” In April, RouteMatch attempted to fix the problem. But within a couple of months it was acting up again, until Brugmann shut it down.

In the meantime, drivers are collecting manual ridership counts, and Brugmann said that shouldn’t affect the accuracy of the data.

Since the problems began, START has withheld about $60,000 in payments from RouteMatch “until we are fully confident the system can be fully implemented and operational.” Besides the initial cost of the system, annual service agreement fees add another $26,000 each year.

RouteMatch has served the town “as a reliable vendor for the last five years,” Brugmann wrote. But given the drawn-out malfunction, officials may consider cutting ties with the company.

“The town is in the process of evaluating whether to continue working with RouteMatch to address our future needs or whether a different vendor may be a better fit going forward,” he wrote.

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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