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Bus Vending Machines Are The Ticket

Stockton, California--Squat silver boxes dotted with multicoloured lights and buttons have been popping up around the city in the past few weeks. Looking vaguely science-fictional against the surrounding city environment, they sell bus passes.

Manufactured by GFI Genfare, a subsidiary of North Carolina-based SPC Corp., they are fare vending machines that accompany the city's new Metro Express bus service.

The machines, also known as GFI Vendstar-2 TVMs, cost about $55,000 each. The Regional Transit District bought 11, all of which eventually will be installed along Route 40. Nine already dot city streets.

Eight of them are working now at stops near the Hammer Lane triangle, Benjamin Holt Drive, University of the Pacific, San Joaquin Delta College and the Downtown Transit Center.

The others should be on soon, said Kari Wilson, an RTD project manager. The only thing they lack, she said, is power.

The vending machines are necessary in part because Metro Express buses do not have fare boxes to take money, issue tickets or validate multiple ride passes. The Vendstars, stationed at Route 40 bus stops, fill that role.

Until all 11 are installed and operational, Metro Express passengers will continue to ride fare-free, said district spokesman Paul Rapp.

In addition to the single-ride and day passes already sold on regular buses, the vending machines sell 31-day and 10-ride passes, which in the past were only available at RTD offices and outlets.

The vending machines are bilingual; a single button toggles the on-screen language between English and Spanish. For the visually impaired, the machines offer audio instructions in both languages and feature braille keypads.

For now, the Vendstars issue tickets only in exchange for cash and change, but in the next six weeks, customers will be able to use debit and credit cards as well, Rapp said.

These heavy-looking machines should be safe from looters. They are banded to poles sunk into the concrete. Tampering will set off an alarm that "just about takes your head off," said the RTD's Wilson.

Any would-be robbers would "almost have to take the entire (bus) shelter with them," she said.

Reprinted from the Stockton Record, March 22, 2007.

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