UTA to Test Card Payments

UTA to Test Card Payments

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Transit Authority is seeking bids from companies to design a program that would allow customers to purchase bus tickets with a card instead of cash.

The agency hopes to implement a pilot program on its 40 ski buses next winter. If successful, UTA's entire fare system could become electronic, perhaps by late 2008.

"This is about convenience for the customer, ease of payment," said Clair Fiet, UTA's chief technology officer. "In theory, gone are the lines at ticket vending machines."

Earlier this year, Visa, MasterCard and American Express began distributing contactless credit cards within the United States. Fiet says the potential exists for UTA to enter into an agreement with those companies to allow transit users to pay for a ride with their contactless credit card.

"That is the ideal," he said. "We are not a collection agency whatsoever. Our core business is to give people transportation options."

The agency might also use the card system to track where and how people use public transit.

UTA spokesman Justin Jones says knowing the habits of riders will allow the transit agency to "more equitably" set ticket prices based on distance traveled. If you ride a short distance, the fare is less. If you ride a long distance, the fare is more.

In general, low-income riders travel shorter distances. With UTA's current fare system, these riders pay the same amount as riders who travel longer distances.

Elizabeth Matthews, a low-income advocate at the Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, said she supports a distance-based fare system but would have to see what UTA is proposing with the contactless payment system.

"I think logistics need to be worked out before we get really excited or angry about this," she said.

In cities like Washington, D.C. and New York, subway riders use paper tickets with electronic strips, but the technology isn't available for riders to use a credit card as both a ticket and payment mechanism.

For that reason and others (such as the ability to track riders), Fiet says UTA's system would be more convenient and provide greater benefit to riders.

"This takes the worry out of how much to pay," he said. "It should be faster to board and use the service. We will have the ability to gather information about what kind of service our riders need."

By spring, UTA hopes to select a company to design a pilot for its contactless fare collection system. The system would then be installed temporarily on UTA's 40 ski buses. Resort employees and season pass holders at the resorts would be the first to use the system.

Anywhere from 60,000 to 75,000 fare cards will be used in the ski bus test-run.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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