Metro still waiting for working "smart card" system

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The story in the Chronicle this morning about Metro hiring a consultant to monitor a contractor who has yet to deliver the “smart card” system, is humorous, in a sad, wasting-more-taxpayer-dollars kind of way:

The Metro board voted Thursday to spend up to $100,000 on a consultant to oversee a contractor that has yet to implement a system that would allow bus and rail riders to buy fares with a “smart card.”

San Diego-based Cubic Corp. was supposed to have the card system ready when Metro’s 7.5-mile light rail line opened Jan. 1. But nearly a year later, the fare-buying system still is not functional.

The board of directors authorized hiring LCL Advisors, whose clients have included the Port Authority of New York and the New Jersey toll roads system, to monitor Cubic Corp.’s work. LCL will be paid $150 an hour, plus expenses, up to $100,000.

Metropolitan Transit Authority Vice President John Sedlak said the company and its principal consultant Richard J. Lobron will “assess the work activity” of Cubic and help test the system’s accuracy.

Sedlak said Metro no longer has an expected date for the cards to be in use, “and that is one of the reasons why we’re bringing a consultant in.”

Metro awarded Cubic an $8 million contract in 2002 to develop and provide the fare collection system.

Metro’s not exactly rolling in the dough these days, thanks to the shiny choo choo, in spite of the fact that we are told Metro is always looking for the best use of taxpayer money. We see bus routes being cut right and left to help offset Metro funding problems. And KTRK-13 says there is some question about Metro’s bus maintenance. We certainly hope there is some clause in the contract with Cubic Corp. that will allow Metro to recoup some of that $8 million, at the very least to repay the cost of hiring a babysitter.

Then there is this sentence, which is icing on the cake, so to speak:

A Cubic spokeswoman said she was not aware of problems with the system in Houston.

The “smart card” system is not functional a year after it was supposed to be implemented, and Cubic Corp. is unaware of any problems. It’s absurd.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.