- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Maryland has awarded a $38.3 million contract that represents a final step of the state's effort to be the first to use a statewide transit pass.

The Maryland Transit Administration fare cards will be valid for all light rail, commuter rail and subway systems in the state and throughout the Metro's bus and rail system.

"The biggest advantage is to make transit more convenient for the customer," said MTA spokesman Jack Cahalan. "In the end, no matter what transit system you're on or where you are in the state, you can use this one universal fare card. You don't need to worry about correct change anymore."

The contract announced Dec. 20 requires Cubic Transportation Systems of San Diego to install the fare-card vending machines, electronic scanners at turnstiles and software needed to make the system work. Installation is scheduled to begin in the spring, with systemwide operation planned for 2004.

The system will use the plastic electronic "smart cards" and the magnetically stripped paper fare cards most commonly used by Metro customers. The computer-chip-embedded smart cards can be waved near turnstile scanners to enter transit systems and can be reloaded with more value at vending machines.

Last year, Cubic won a $59 million contract from Metro to install 3,000 electronic fare-card scanners on buses throughout the region. The scanners already are used on the Metro rail system. The Maryland system that Cubic agreed to install is compatible with Metro's bus and rail systems.

The company estimates that about 1 million transit customers will use the fare cards daily in Maryland and throughout Metro when installation is complete.

The universal fare cards also are a victory for Maryland Gov. Parris M. Glendening's $500 million plan to increase transit use.

"This is one of the key elements of Gov. Glendening's transit initiative," Mr. Cahalan said.

A single fare card for all transit systems reduces overhead costs of the overseeing agencies, according to transit proponents. The convenience the cards offer customers should increase ridership.

Other states are in preliminary test stages for statewide transit passes.

In California, for example, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week began an 18-month test in which it allowed bus passengers to transfer without an additional fee to a suburban bus system. If the test is successful, the Los Angeles MTA wants to eventually use a single universal fare card similar to Maryland's venture.

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