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A Fast Solution for Rapid Transit

SEC GARCIA, FACILITIES MANAGER for The Rapid in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has never questioned whether he should issue ID cards to employees. However, getting those cards in a timely and cost effective manner has not been easy.

According to Garcia, the proximity access control system for The Rapid—a bus transit system serving Grand Rapids and five surrounding communities—was working well. Obtaining the photo ID cards for employees, however, was too expensive and time consuming.

The Rapid employs 262 workers and operates 207 vehicles. Most of these vehicles are buses that travel 26 fixed bus routes and provide approximately 8 million rides to community residents each year. The Rapid also provides special vehicles for those with disabilities and other services, such as carpooling programs.

Garcia uses the access control system to secure approximately 55 doors in three facilities—the central station, the administration building, and the maintenance garage. The central station is the operational hub for The Rapid; it is where riders can switch buses and purchase tickets. The external doors to the central station, which must be open to the public, are locked and alarmed after hours.

The administration office and the maintenance garage are closed to the public. Employees must use their access control cards to enter the building.

When it purchased and installed the ReadykeyPRO access control system from Bosch Security of Fairport, New York, three years ago, The Rapid contracted with an outside company to provide the access control cards, which also serve as photo IDs. However, outsourcing of the card production, which was arranged by Garcia’s predecessor, was not working.

One problem was the timing. To get a new access control card, Garcia had to take a digital photo of the new employee and send it to the company hired to make the ID cards. The new card would usually arrive in the mail around a week later. That meant that new bus drivers could not begin work, because under federal law, they needed a photo ID to operate a bus.

The cards were also expensive, costing Garcia $10.95 each.

A little over a year ago, Garcia decided to research products that would allow him to produce the access cards in-house. He started with an online search. After discovering several potential products, Garcia put the project out for bid. He received three quotes in response.

From those bids, Garcia chose ID Maker from IDville in Grand Rapids. A major selling point was that the cards could be purchased in bulk, providing a significant savings. The price per card went from almost $11 to less than one dollar.

Though the printer would have worked with many types of access control cards, Garcia wanted cards that would work with the company’s existing access control system. The new cards, manufactured by Farpointe Data, Inc., of Mountain View, California, are exactly the same as the old cards in terms of technology and durability. They are proximity cards made of hard plastic.

Garcia has found the system easy to use. When new employees start work, the orientation process includes a trip to the security operations center, where their photos are taken. Using software that came with the printer and runs on the department’s PC, security employees download the photos in PDF format, add in the company logo, and type in the employee’s name. The security department prints the cards, which are also encoded with the appropriate access control privileges.

Garcia has chosen to use the proximity cards with the existing access control system’s time and attendance module. He could have tracked time and attendance with the old card system, but the delay in getting new and replacement cards made deploying the feature difficult. “We don’t have a central place for bus drivers to punch in and out,” he says. “So, I use the cards to keep track of when they come and go.”

While the price of the card printing system was not the most important factor, the ID Maker was the cheapest of the three products reviewed. The system, which included the ID card printer and camera to take the photos, cost $3,699.

In the eight months since he started using the system, Garcia says that it has worked so well that he has chosen to use it with contractors as well as employees. “We can print cards so quickly that it makes sense to give everyone an ID card,” says Garcia.