What a difference a year -- and some paper cards with magnetic strips -- makes.
Back in early 2012, officials with Tri Delta Transit were waiting toroll out its new buses before launching a new fare-collection system.
But, with its punch card system wrought with fraud, the East Contra Costa agency decided not to delay switching to magnetic reader cards.
"We knew we were getting ripped off and losing money," Tri Delta Chief Executive Officer Jeanne Krieg said. "The results have been pretty shocking."
Tri Delta directors approved a nearly $1.1 million purchase in February 2012 of 60 fareboxes for its buses, installing the system in October.
As a result, the agency saw its revenue increase by about $200,000 from October to June 2013, compared with the same time period a year before, while increasing the average amount it receives from passenger fares from $1.01 to $1.08, said Steve Ponte, Tri Delta's chief operating officer.
East Bay bus services use different mechanisms to collect fares. Like Tri Delta, West Contra Costa's bus provider, WestCAT, uses the magnetic tickets, while County Connection and the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority, or WHEELS, use cash or punch cards.
AC Transit, which serves western Contra Costa and Alameda counties, uses plastic Clipper cards to collect fares. Plans call for all East Bay bus agencies to adopt Clipper card technology in about 18 months, officials said. Some more hardware will have to be added to convert the fareboxes to the Clipper system, Krieg said.
Tri Delta estimates it lost about $500,000 in fare fraud from 2007 to 2012.
When fares began to dwindle, Tri Delta investigated. Officials found some serial numbers on tickets were never purchased through an authorized outlet.
Tri Delta tried to combat the fraud by changing ticket color, paper stock, adding foil, issuing special punches, and increasing ticket storage security, but to no avail.
Krieg says some of the tactics used to peddle the fakes included one man scalping them at the Hillcrest Park and Ride in Antioch, which Krieg's husband spotted after going undercover. Bus drivers were finding out from passengers about altered tickets -- one rider told a driver about a Pittsburg minimart store clerk selling stolen tickets.
"He denied having the tickets, but our visit closed that outlet down," Krieg said.
Ponte added: "We even had people that would have a number punched out and put it back in with tape or glue."
The new fareboxes, which issue tickets similar to BART's, accept cash at the front of buses, and are aimed at simplifying the interaction between drivers and passengers.
Several bus drivers said last week the card machines are less hassle.
"It's a very tight system, and allows us to keep good track of all our revenue and ridership, " said Charles Anderson, WestCAT's general manager.
WHEELS still uses the "old-fashioned" approach of cash payments to drivers, flash passes, which are quickly shown to drivers, and Fare Buster tickets, which are sold in sheets of 10, said Paul Matsuoka, the agency's executive director.
"We see a fair amount of fraud. We have to rely on our drivers keeping a sharp eye out," he said.
WHEELS hasn't changed to the magnetic readers because the implementation of the Clipper cards is so close, Matsouka said.
County Connection still uses punch cards, which are made of a flimsy plastic material and thus hard to duplicate, said Mary Burdick, the agency's marketing manager.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.