Metro light rail is getting better at making sure people pay for their rides, according to transit authorities.
Still, agency officials admit they haven't completely solved the problems that have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Since Metro began its cross-Valley service four months ago, lost revenue has emerged as the system's largest problem. In March, the agency took in $253,000 less than expected due to technology issues, a public still growing accustomed to how the fares work and a lack of enforcement against ticket scofflaws.
Metro chief executive officer Rick Simonetta said this is fallout from a proof-of-payment system that is "a pretty radical departure" from what local transit users have used in the past.
"It has a number of components, which have been a challenge from the beginning and will continue to be a challenge," Simonetta said Wednesday at a meeting of Metro's Rail Management Committee.
Riders pay for their train trips by purchasing tickets from vending machines on station platforms. Or, they can use a pre-paid "smart card" which registers a fare when the user swipes it against a reader.
In the early weeks of Metro's operations, the smart card readers had trouble accepting valid cards. Also, the readers' screens gave riders a visual cue too soon before an audio tone, prompting people to pull away their cards before the transaction was complete.
Those issues were responsible for about $200,000 in lost revenue in February, Metro said.
But Simonetta said the German contractor which provided the 100 fare vending machines is "being reasonably responsive" in fixing the problems.
In addition, Metro is educating its riders on how to properly use the cards. Signs now are up in trains providing instructions, and ambassadors are at stations to help.
Metro has found one of the worst times for smart card users is after large events in downtown Phoenix, such as after Arizona Diamondbacks baseball games. Large lines form at ticket kiosks and the card holders simply board the trains rather than wait in line to properly register their fare.
In response, Simonetta said Metro will be installing standalone readers at stations.
Finally, Metro's fare enforcement efforts are improving, Simonetta said, with the addition of more inspectors.
Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks, chairman of the Rail Management Committee, told Simonetta it was essential to get the public in the habit of properly paying for fares: "In this first year, we may set up attitudes in this system what will go on for decades."