- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

The Maryland Board of Public Works took a first step yesterday toward implementing a single fare card that could be used for all transit service in Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia.

The board awarded a $21.9 million contract to Cubic Transportation Systems to install fare-card vending equipment and readers that are compatible with the same kind of equipment used by Metro and other transit systems in the region.

The contract also represents a victory for Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening's six-year, $500 million plan to increase transit service throughout his state.

Proponents of the system say that a single fare card for all area transit systems will lower costs and boost ridership by making commuting more convenient.

Cubic's machines will dispense magnetically striped cards that can have fares deducted from their value at automated turnstiles programmed to read them. Other computer-chip-embedded cards, known as "smart cards," will be sold that can be waved near automated turnstiles without touching them to have fares deducted.

Metro's smart-card system is called SmarTrip.

"[Metro] has its own separate contract with the same company," said Larry Jones, Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA) spokesman. "We'll all have the same equipment. Other transit operators will be able to buy into the same contract and use the same equipment."

Amy Coggin, spokeswoman for the American Public Transit Association (APTA), said, "As far as I know, this really would be the first multistate smart card." Metro was one of the first transit agencies to use smart cards.

APTA recently reported transit ridership nationwide has grown 21 percent in the last five years, putting it at a 40-year high. Rising gasoline prices were a big incentive for motorists who switched to transit, the association reported.

Maryland's three-year contract calls for San Diego-based Cubic to install new fare boxes and automated fare-card readers on 850 of the MTA's local buses, 107 commuter buses and in 14 Baltimore subway stations.

Eventually, Maryland officials expect customers to use a single fare card for local buses, commuter buses, subways, paratransit vehicles, and light rail and commuter rail, such as the MARC system.

Greg Garback, a Metro financial director, predicted that by late next year, all transit agencies in the region would be using at least some of the compatible fare-card equipment. Metro awarded a $20 million contract to Cubic in January for 1,400 automated fare boxes for buses. The company has received similar contracts from transit agencies in Northern Virginia, such as Alexandria's DASH, the Fairfax Connector and Arlington's ARTS bus systems.

"All of the operators in the region will have the ability to use our SmarTrip card as the fare payment system across the region," Mr. Garback said. "What that means for us is that we will have seamless travel across all regions and all modes."

Metro has issued 160,000 SmarTrip cards since the program started in May 1999.

"This could help take us off the number-two spot on the list of most-congested cities in the United States by making transit more attractive," Mr. Garback said.

The equipment purchased by Maryland's MTA is scheduled to be installed by spring 2003 on all its buses and the Baltimore subway system.

MTA officials must choose one of two options for determining the value of the cards. Under one option, customers will be able to add value to the cards at any of the fare boxes, either with cash, bank debit cards or credit cards. Under the other option, the fare cards would have a single predetermined value, similar to monthly fare cards.

"It's really up to them what they want to do," said Ian Newberg, Cubic's senior manager on the MTA contract. "The system will eventually be able to accommodate everybody on a single smart card."

Mr. Glendening said in a statement, "Smart Card is Maryland's ticket to helping reach its goal of doubling mass-transit ridership by 2020. A single pass is already making public transportation more convenient in the Washington area. We are now moving forward with our vision of providing a seamless transit system throughout the state."

Other parts of Mr. Glendening's transit plan include the purchase of 50 new rail cars and 300 buses for use in the Washington area and new commuter bus service for travel between suburbs and job centers.

In other action yesterday, the Board of Public Works awarded a $4 million contract to relocate the Silver Spring MARC rail station next to the Silver Spring Metro station. The board also approved $9 million to continue a feasibility study on a magnetically levitated train between Union Station, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and downtown Baltimore.

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