Recent upgrades to Turlock's transit system were made in an effort to make it easier for passengers to ride the bus, but for one rider the changes almost resulted in a trip to jail.
Turlock resident Wendy Woodside was excited to be going to the Senior Center last week — a trip she postponed for two weeks due to the heat — and caught the A Bus near her home. But when she tried to use her pre-purchased bus pass with the new electronic fare box, it wouldn't work.
According to Woodside, the bus driver told her that because her pass was bent and the Fast Fare system couldn't read it, she would have to exit the bus. When Woodside told the driver she'd already paid for the pass and the account balance of $5 was printed on the back, he still refused to allow her to ride the bus.
"The bus driver said it was my fault for not caring of it. I didn't scream or yell, I just said 'I'm not getting off the bus,'" said Woodside.
That 's when the police were called. Turlock Police Officer Nate Urban responded to the incident, but instead of forcing her off the bus he resolved the issue with the driver and Woodside was able to get to her destination.
Her bus troubles didn't end there, though. While trying to return home from the Senior Center, Woodside once again was told she would have to exit the bus because the electronic fare box couldn't read her card.
For the second time in one day, the police were called and once again it was Officer Urban who responded. This time, Urban took it upon himself to drive Woodside to City Hall to get her bus pass issues taken care of for good.
After much discussion, according to Woodside, the City engineering department agreed to replace her card with a new one.
"Officer Urban went above and beyond," said Woodside. "But this incident should not have taken place. This whole thing was just crazy. This whole thing was over 75 cents," she said.
Woodside's experiences were anomalous, according to Transportation Engineering Supervisor Wayne York.
"We've had an overwhelming positive response from drivers and the public on the fare boxes," said York. "They're more accountable, there's less fraud and they're easier to use for passengers."
York said the City has only received two complaints on the new fare boxes over the past two and half months they've been in use. Both those instances, including Woodside's, involved folded or bent passes, he said.
The City of Turlock made a significant technological upgrade to its bus service in May, installing the Fast Fare electronic fare boxes. Instead of purchasing ticket books weekly or monthly, riders are able to pre-purchase encoded, magnetic strip passes from City Hall, which are passes are similar to those used on Bay Area Regional Transit trains.
Passengers can still pay for fares on the bus using cash or coins, but exact change is no longer required. If a passenger overpays, the difference between the payment and the fare is returned to them on a change card that can be used on future trips. This change card can be used in conjunction with cash, coins or other fare media to pay for a trip.
Each of the other three transit agencies in Stanislaus County (Stanislaus County’s StaRT, Ceres’ CAT, and Modesto’s MAX) also operate models of electronic fare boxes. Turlock is still working on integrating its fare passes with others in the area, said York.