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Woodlands explores options for old bus fare tickets

October 3, 2018

The Woodlands Township is experiencing a dilemma that many in the tech world have for years: figuring how to move into the future while recognizing the past.

In the case of The Woodlands Express bus service, the future appears to be paperless with plans for a new ticketing app that was implemented in August to eventually replace all paper tickets by summer of 2019.

The past, though, is causing a delay in moving forward with that plan, as township leaders are confronted with two problems: a small percentage of riders of The Woodlands Express do not want to use an app for tickets, and there is an unknown glut of paper tickets that could number well into the thousands that were sold over the past several years and are still valid.

And, the dilemma also has an unwanted side effect: the township is losing revenue because those old tickets are from the Brazos Transit District and are still valid and being used by riders. The Woodlands Township bought the Express bus service from the Brazos Transit District

During a meeting of the township’s board of directors on Thursday, Sept. 27, township official John Powers gave a presentation on the status of plans to slowly eliminate paper tickets, in part by implementing a plan that would see paper ticket sales end as of Dec. 31, 2018.

Any remaining paper tickets, under the proposal, would no longer be valid after June 30, 2019, and all Express riders would need to use the ticketing app. Tickets sold by The Woodlands between Jan. 1, 2019 and June 29, 2019, would be useless as of June 30, 2019, but those who bought them could get a credit in their “app wallet,” he said.

The plan has one major problem: there are an unknown number of paper tickets still in use and valid, Powers explained. The tickets were sold by the Brazos Transit District and have no expiration date.

“There are still paper tickets being used from prior to the township taking over,” Powers said. “These (Brazos) district are still being used prior to the township taking over operations. Those are being sold online.”

According to a presentation packet given to board members, township officials examined two months of Express tickets — for the months of July and August — and discovered that out of a total of about 97,000 tickets, 2,433 of those tickets were one-way fare tickets sold by the Brazos Transit District. The more than 2,400 old tickets, which are still valid, cost the township an estimated $15,814.50 in lost revenue, Powers report stated, and if spread out over one year’s time, would lead to an estimated loss of revenue of more than $94,000.

Powers’ report recommended that the township board approve ending the acceptance of the old Brazos tickets — as well as old tickets sold by the

The situation was apparently created, Powers explained, by the implementation of the new ticketing app, which was created by a company called Masabi. Powers told directors some bus riders do not want to use the app, but that the township desires to stop using the paper tickets for, “ease of financial accounting and ridership tracking data.”

“The app was developed and launched in August, since then it has been successful and is being used,” Powers said. “People are really beginning to like the application.”

Powers also said the use of the app had created some unforeseen issues, including the need to create polices for the use of the app, but also a new code of conduct for the Express buses.

“We had to make some decisions about polices about e-commerce,” he added. “We began to get feedback from residents who use paper tickets. We have some people who don’t want to use a mobile app at all.”

There are seven different versions of the old tickets, and they are being sold online on websites such as Craigslist as well as WoodlandsOnline. The creation of the new policies would end the sale of the paper tickets and require all ticketing to be done through the new app.

Board Member John McMullan said he had serious concerns with the situation and asked Powers several questions.

“First, is there a problem with fraud? Do you think we’re receiving a lot of fraudulent tickets or are these just older tickets that were purchased when the cost of park and ride was lower,” McMullan asked.

Powers said there are no incidents of fraud that he is aware of, but pointed out that the Brazos management had sold possibly thousands of the tickets — some via automatic payroll deductions — and an unknown number of riders may still have them.

“There are people that had tickets before 2016 that are still using those,” Powers said.

Those answers seemed to confound McMullan.

“Why should we take that away from them,” McMullan responded, asking more questions about past decisions regarding previously sold tickets. “Part of my recollections of this is we actually raised the cost of the park and ride. We raised the rate from $12 to $13. I thought one of the things we discussed was if people were not happy, they could buy in bulk.”

Township Board Chairman Gordy Bunch supported McMullan, noting that it did not seem optimal to void previously paid-for tickets nor to force riders to us an app they might not want to.

“I don’t think it is a great idea to have to force them to move it to a mobile ticketing device if they don’t want to,” Bunch said. “If it is a township ticket book, and we sold it to them, I don’t care how long it is, we should honor that.”

Powers continued to discuss the inner workings and aspects of the issue, but that did not satisfy McMullan nor other board members.

“Before we vote, I want to know what is required under law,” McMullan said. “The other thing I’d like to understand is, it says here we’re losing $7,900 a month from Brazos tickets.”

Powers explained the loss of revenue was based on only the two months examined, and he also said the Brazos tickets sold specifically for the Woodlands Express had no expiration date.

“There may not be anymore out there, they may have been used, we don’t know, well we do know they are being sold online,” Powers said.

Bunch said because the township bought the entire bus operation, and like in any business deal, the township assumes all aspects of the old business and must recognize and honor past tickets that were sold.

“These tickets were obligations of the operation when we accepted it,” Bunch said.

Both Powers, as well as township President Don Norrell, told the board members that no statements were issued to riders about the status of old tickets or whether or not they would be honored in the future.

“We had asked late in that process, before we made the acquisition, we asked for a list of tickets and ticket numbers to get an idea of what was out there, but they did not provide that,” Norrell said.

The board took no action on the proposal and will revisit the issue at a future meeting. McMullan specifically asked for more information about the issue and also an examination of the list of proposed policies.

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