What factors should be considered?
One key factor is whether most people purchase single- or multiple-use tickets. If everyone, or almost everyone, buys single-use tickets, it can be very expensive to employ RFID transponders. If a high percentage of riders buy multi-use tickets, then the cost becomes considerably less. Some transit companies are looking at printed RFID transponders for disposable tickets, but I believe the price is still higher than for magnetic-stripe tickets.
Another thing to consider is the total cost of ownership. The upfront cost of replacing existing magnetic-stripe and coin or token machines with RFID readers can be significant, but RFID greatly reduces or even eliminates the cost of collecting coins and tokens and bringing them to a central location for counting. I've been told by an expert in this industry that in some cities, it costs more to collect funds than is actually brought in. RFID also greatly reduces maintenance costs, because there are few mechanical parts that can break down in an RFID system.
Finally, you need to look at the software that manages the entire system by linking a unique identification number to an individual who purchases a fare. This is not an area we have written about, so I am unsure who provides the software and how easy it is to install. But this is probably the most challenging part of switching to an RFID system, as the tag and reader technology is mature. I hope our readers who have made the switch can add some of their learnings.
—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal
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