Seattle Transit Blog does the math today on an idea I've mentioned before: What if the city used the $400,000 it currently spends on the downtown Ride-Free Area---which is being eliminated as part of a deal between county council Republicans and Democrats to pass a $20 vehicle license fee to save Metro---on ticket vending machines to speed up boarding times? Metro broached the idea as one of several that could mitigate the negative impacts of eliminating the ride-free zone (which would increase boarding times and create delays to downtown bus service).
How much would the ticket vending machines (TVMs) cost? The $400,000 per year that the City of Seattle pays Metro for the RFA is enough to buy at least twenty Swift style ticket vending machines. That’s enough to equip every RapidRide stop within the RFA* with a TVM and for six other busy stops downtown.

I say at least twenty because I’m assuming a total cost per TVM of $20,000 based on Community Transit’s costs for Swift’s TVMs including spares, the management system, taxes, and contingency. The TVMs themselves cost $9,000 (accepts coins and cards) to $13,000 (accepts coins, cards and bills) per unit. I think there is potential for cost savings if Metro leverages the City of Seattle’s existing infrastructure which supports over 1,600 parking pay stations and off-board TVMs on the South Lake Union Streetcar.

I’m not suggesting that the city spend all $400,000 on ticket machines but merely pointing out how much that amount could buy. It’s not an insignificant amount. It isn’t a new concept either, hundreds of stops in Central London’s “cashless zone” have ticket machines for fare pre-payment since 2003.

I've often wondered why Metro doesn't just invest in light-rail-style card reader machines (and convert the card readers in the bus tunnel to take Metro passes). Given the (relatively) low cost of ticket machines, I'd say it's time to get on it.