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Transit agencies continue to push the fare collection technology envelope, smart-card association says

The smart-card-based fare collection evolution continues: Transit operators in every major U.S. city now are implementing contactless payment systems, according to the Smart Card Alliance, which held its 2007 annual conference last week in Boston.

"We were convinced we wanted to get smart cards in the hands of our riders - it's the fastest way to get on a bus or enter the subway," Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Deputy General Manager and Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Davis told attendees of the conference, which was themed "Smart Cards: The Future of Digital Technology."

MBTA has issued 1.4 million contactless fare cards — "CharlieCards" — since the beginning of the year. Issuing the cards has paid off: Riders now pay for 60 percent of their subway trips and 78 percent of bus trips using CharlieCards, Davis said. Next technology stop for MBTA? The use of contactless payment cards issued by financial institutions.

And if contactless payment cards were accepted everywhere on the MTA New York City Transitsystem, 75 percent of credit and 71 percent of debit pilot participants would prefer to use PayPass for transit payment, said MasterCard Vice President of Transportation Burt Wilhelm, citing the results of a PayPass/NYCT pilot.

"Customers want to maintain consistency between the retail and transportation payment experience," Wilhelm said.

Utah Transportation Authority (UTA) riders want the same thing, officials told conference attendees. After completing a "ski pass" pilot last year, UTA last week unveiled plans to implement contactless fare payment — including contactless bank cards — systemwide in 2008.

A not-for-profit, multi-industry association, The Smart Card Alliance aims to "stimulate the understanding, adoption, use and widespread application" of smart-card technology.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/16/2007