24 April 2014

CharlieCard Secrets

After the MBTA switched to its current payment system, I was issued a special pass that looks like a regular CharlieCard but has my photo on the other side.

Over the past few months I've been having minor issues with getting the card to read properly when I board a bus. (I've never had a problem going through a fare gate in a subway station.) I thought it could be that the card was simply getting old and the sensor had somehow weakened, or that it was some other, more obscure reason.

Bus drivers observe me struggling to get the card to register until I give up and pull it out of my wallet, even though the readers are generally capable if reading it through one thin layer of leather. Rarely a driver will break the silence and offer a bit of advice that turns out to be genuinely useful.

On my own I figured out that the chip in the card is near the top of my wallet, but I didn't know until a driver told me that moving the card (and my wallet) more slowly toward and over the reader would help read it on the first pass.

Likewise, I didn't know until today that the reader is located on the right side of the pad. I have a tendency to hold my wallet near the middle of the pad, which probably explains why I've been having problems getting my card to read properly. And this knowledge would also end up being a benefit to the drivers if they shared it more readily with passengers, because faster card reading means faster boarding overall.

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