Internet Insight: Transit Agency Rides Smart-Card Train
While big names such as Visa U.S.A., American Express Co. and Target Corp.'s Target stores have taken center stage as early innovators of smart cards, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is quietly yet aggressively carving out a niche of itWhile big names such as Visa U.S.A., American Express Co. and Target Corp.s Target stores have taken center stage as early innovators of smart cards, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is quietly yet aggressively carving out a niche of its own. Greg Garback, executive officer, department of finance and program development for the WMATA, in Washington, is proud that WMATA was the first public transportation system to adopt smart cards, launching a pilot in 1999. Today, nearly 60 percent of riders use smart cards (about 210,000 cards are in circulation).
Riders can load as much as $200 on a card using cash or a credit or debit card at terminals in stations. The smart card can be used to pay for parking spaces at stations as well as rides. Fares on trains are based on time and distance. The smart card offers advantages for riders over a magnetic-stripe card. The smart card can be reprogrammed indefinitely; in fact, Garback is still using the same card he got when the pilot launched three and a half years ago. In addition, if a user loses a card, the money on it isnt lost. The user can call WMATA, and it will cancel the card and put any balance on a new card. "The thing people love about it is transaction speed," Garback said. The contactless smart card processes five times faster than a magnetic-stripe card, he said. Riders can leave the card in a wallet or purse and wave it over the turnstile to gain entrance.