Smart Cards: Paving the way for a better transit experience

Smart Card transit fare collection technology has been expanding in major cities across the United States and the world and many are wondering when it will finally come to St. Louis.

The conversion to electronic ticketing on transit began in the 1970s with stored value, prepaid cards. Since the 1990s, transit agencies have been moving away from traditional magnetic-stripe cards to contactless Smart Cards. Smart Cards boast a number of benefits to transit agencies as well as riders, including quicker fare payments, convenience, and reduced reliance on paper.smartcard

Smart Card fare collection utilizes chip-embedded technology to create a transit pass that looks similar to a credit card. Cards are read when touched or waved in front of the target on the farebox. Smart Cards are typically closed-loop, meaning they can only be used for payment of fares on the transit agency that issued the card. They cannot be used on outside transit systems or for other purchases, although a few agencies are beginning to explore possibilities for open bank card fare payments.

Smart Card technology is not limited to transit fare payment and is already used for a variety of other purposes, such as identification cards, secure access cards, and parking passes. Also in the works for new Smart Card and transit fare collection systems are smartphone apps that replace the traditional card. With the growing ubiquity of smartphones, this technology could see a surge in the near future.

Last year, Metro began the process of updating its fare collection system, with new ticket vending machines, validators, and bus fareboxes. The new fareboxes that Metro installed on select MetroBus routes are equipped to handle Smart Cards, and there is potential for this technology to be fareboximplemented on the Metro transit system in the future. By selecting Smart Card-capable machinery, Metro is further paving the way for St. Louis to take advantage of this growing trend in transit fare payment.

Perks of the Smart Card

  • Smart Card programs have options for use as a monthly/unlimited ride pass or a stored value card.
  • Monthly and unlimited ride Smart Card passes typically require the user to create an account with the program that is then used to purchase the pass. Once the monthly fee is paid, users can swipe their card for fare payment as needed. Account registration also makes it easier to replace a card or automatically re-load the card each month – a huge perk for regular transit commuters!
  • Stored value cards provide a convenient Smart Card option for those who take transit less regularly. They allow the user to load the card with a specified amount of money and then swipe it as needed for payment of transit fares. The fare amount is automatically deducted from the card, which means less worry about having exact change or calculating the cost of a transfer. Users can continue to use and re-load the card as many times as they wish.
  • Smart Cards are made of more durable materials than traditional monthly passes, so they will last longer and won’t bend as easily. They can also serve as a replacement for traditional paper tickets, further reducing the paper needs and carbon footprint of transit agencies.
  • Indefinitely re-useable and re-loadable!
  • Some transit agencies allow Smart Cards to include a photo and be used as a form of ID.
  • Faster transactions at the farebox!
  • Most Smart Card programs allow users to register their card, making it easier if the card is lost to transfer balance and transit account information to a replacement card.
  • With some Smart Cards, users can swipe their card without even taking it out of their wallet!

For more information on the Smart Card, as well as a list of links to cities already using the technology for their transit systems, please visit the Smart Card Alliance website.