When it was announced Portland would be moving from paper tickets to a fare card, I started counting down to the very ambitious release time of the next year. Considering how long it was taking Philly’s fare card system, pulling off a fare card system launch in just a year sounded quite risky. While TriMet itself is quite a bit smaller than Philly’s SEPTA, TriMet wasn’t just looking to launch a fare card for themselves – it would work on the streetcar system and neighboring Vancouver’s C-Tran too.
While I haven’t given HOP a try on C-Tran, I’ve been paperless on TriMet and Portland Streetcar since the start of March, and things have been working very, very well. While there was a minor issue with fare calculation the first week of testing, it was fixed very soon after I called it in. In fact, I haven’t had a single major issue with my HOP card. Everything has, well, just worked… for the most part.
There have been a couple of instances where I’ve been unable to touch on because every validator at the platform or on the train were unresponsive. I’ve also accidentally crashed a bus’ fare computer and very recently I was given a valid until time of 2.5 hours in the past instead of in the future, but overall, it’s been a very smooth beta.
Perhaps part of that success is because HOP is actually a very simple system. With the exception of the removal of a couple of paper ticket validators on every Streetcar, rolling out HOP hasn’t required removing any equipment or changes in ticket machines. In fact, when HOP launches, there won’t be a HOP ticket machine. You’ll have to get a HOP card and top it up either online or at a retail location. Since online top ups – including auto-load – have worked perfectly since day one, I haven’t actually had the chance (nor need for that matter) to try testing a top up at a retail location. I’d expect it to work though considering how well testing has been going.
It’s very clear someone put a lot of thought into the system design. The HOP validators are beautiful. Very early on, the checkout beeps for a touch on were replaced with much more pleasant chimes (they differ depending on your card type.) The validator screens are large, full-color displays that are very readable, even in the rare Portland sun. The HOP cards themselves even have a hole to attach one to a keychain or lanyard – and it’s the only fare card I’ve seen that does that. Personally, I have mine on the same keychain as my apartment key – no need to fumble around for my wallet.
Perhaps my favorite part of HOP is never having to figure out which ticket to buy again. I ride Streetcar a lot more than TriMet – or rather I did until HOP came out. Now I ride both services about the same. Before, I’d have to determine at the start of the day if I needed to buy a Streetcar ticket or a TriMet ticket. I also had to decide between a 2.5 hour ticket or a day pass. Now I just tap; HOP automatically charges the lowest fare and caps out charging after a month. While I do which I could still just load a Streetcar Annual to it, I love automatically earning a Streetcar Monthly after $40 worth of travel and being charged just 50 cents to transfer to TriMet from Streetcar.
Overall, for being a beta, I would say HOP is in very good shape already. It’s very easy to use if you just setup auto-load online when registering a card. You won’t have to do that, but I’d recommend it over having to find a retail location to top up, even if there are over 500 locations to do so. I do find it a bit interesting TriMet isn’t retrofitting TVMs (ticket machines) to handle HOP cards, but I can see why they wouldn’t want to on a system that only has a launch window of a year. While it was a bit neat being part of a very exclusive club as one of the first testers, I’m very happy to see usage of HOP increasing already. I see no reason for that growth to not continue.