Transit group seeks common farecard system

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metrorail and Metrobus in the national capital area, wants to make its farecard system compatible with the common ID card being developed for federal employees.

'Fifty percent of our peak-period riders are federal employees,' said Greg Garback, executive officer of WMATA's finance department. 'Doesn't it make sense that the card that gets them into their buildings is also the one that gets them there?'

In a related effort, the American Public Transportation Association wants to stop the current practice of each city investing in its own costly, proprietary farecard system.

A farecard standard would let cities choose from multiple vendors of cards, readers and back-end systems.

The goal would be not only a competitive market for equipment, but also a national system allowing travelers to buy train or bus fares in one city and spend them in another.

Garback, a member of the APTA Universal Transit Farecard Task Force and a frequent traveler himself, said he now has 'to carry seven different fare media in my pocket' to ride various jurisdictions' transit systems.

APTA's more than 1,500 member organizations include 326 transit agencies. The nation's largest metropolitan areas around Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington are members.

A metropolitan farecard system is a major public investment costing on average about $100 million, so setting a farecard standard becomes a big deal.

'There is a billion-dollar investment cycle going on now' as a number of cities update their equipment, Garback said.

The APTA task force has been working on a farecard standard for about two years. 'I think we are about at the halfway point,' Garback said. 'There are a lot of moving parts,' and the effort involves industry as well as public agencies to ensure that equipment would be practical to manufacture and install.

Ultimately, he said, farecard systems should reach beyond interoperability with each other, or even with closed systems such as the common federal ID card.

'We don't want to be in the card business,' Garback said. 'We want to be an application on a financial institution card. The transportation industry would just be part of the existing clearing process' that banks use daily to settle accounts. 'We are in the final stages of starting discussions with banks to do this,' he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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