Computerized ticket-reading system takes back seat in debut

Delays prompt team to use older method

equipment to be tried again tomorrow

Opening Day 1999

April 06, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Long lines and Opening Day glitches prompted the Orioles to give up on their new, $500,000 ticket-reading system a half-hour before game time and revert to the low-tech but time-honored method of ushers tearing tickets.

The system, designed to speed fans through gates and cut down on the use of counterfeit tickets, never crashed. But the delays at the gates prompted grumbles from fans and ushers and promises by the team to make improvements.

Among other things, more powerful equipment may be needed to rapidly read the bar codes on each ticket.

"We've got to keep refining it, and that's what we are going to do," said Orioles director of ballpark operations Roger B. Hayden, watching the fans stream through Gate H on the northern end of the Eutaw Street pavilion, scene of some of the longest lines.

Hayden said the Orioles plan to use the equipment at the club's next game tomorrow night.

During the off-season, the team and its vendor, Ticketmaster of Washington-Baltimore, installed a computerized system. As designed, it allows fans to swipe their tickets through a turnstile where a scanner reads the ticket's bar code, transmits the data via radio to a main computer, and relays the approval back to the turnstile in less than a second.

The idea was to eliminate the need for an usher to examine each ticket, verifying that it is not a fake and is for the proper game, and then tear and hand the stub back to the fan.

The system worked that way most of the time yesterday. But many ushers found it easier to take the tickets from the fans and swipe the tickets themselves. Often, a ticket had to be passed over the scanner more than once. Other times, after the computer rejected a ticket the fan was admitted anyway to keep lines moving.

"This is progress?" asked Joe Fields of Baltimore, a frustrated season-ticket holder waiting with his family as their tickets were passed repeatedly through the scanners before being accepted.

"This seems more cumbersome than the old way," he said.

Others enjoyed the change, and asked to swipe their tickets.

"I read about it and wanted to try it out. I think it's really neat," said Jeff Austin, of Lutherville.

He said he was happy to be able to keep his intact ticket as a souvenir, especially if something unusual happens and that game's ticket becomes a collectible.

At Gate C, usher Neil Thompson, who had switched over to hand-tearing tickets as game time neared, expressed confidence that the new equipment will eventually prove superior.

"I had pretty good luck with it. I didn't see a big difference. The kids love it. It gives them something to do, swiping their ticket through the scanner," Thompson said. "And people like being able to keep their ticket."

Overall, only about half the 46,733 fans were admitted electronically. The system barred seven people with tickets that were not authentic, for the wrong date, or otherwise unacceptable.

The delays came during the crush just before game time, when thousands of fans arrived, tickets in hand. Lines backed up at the gates and the Orioles gave the order to ushers to take over.

"We'll have to sort it out and see what we're going to do. We've got some homework to do and that's what we're going to do," said Orioles official Hayden.

Among the possible fixes is installing more powerful scanners in the turnstiles. Explanatory signs for fans may also be posted.

Paul d'Eustachio, president of Ticketmaster of Washington-Baltimore, said the equipment worked as designed, although he acknowledged some backups.

"It's going to take an education on the part of the fans and and education on the part of ushers," d'Eustachio said. "Ultimately it will be as fast or faster than tearing tickets."

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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