Card companies are pushing ahead with transit operators to conduct more trials of network-branded contactless cards for fare payment.

Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. announced separately Tuesday that they are working with the French transit operator Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens to study the use of contactless cards to pay fares for the subway, bus, or tram. Lab and field tests could also be conducted in 2009.

Visa also said it is working with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit authority to let train, subway, and bus riders use contactless fare cards.

U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis plans to distribute 4,000 prepaid Visa Micro Tag contactless key fobs to U.S. Bancorp employees across the country, Visa said. The goal of the test, in which the employees will use the fobs to access a U.S. Bank Visa prepaid account, is to collect feedback on the devices' design, functionality, and ease of use.

The announcements all came out of the Cartes & Identification conference in Paris, an international meeting on smart card and contactless technologies.

In the Los Angeles pilot program, Visa said it plans to offer two kinds of prepaid contactless cards in conjunction with Los Angeles' Metro system. The first is a Visa payWave card that incorporates the transit system's TAP fare application and permits cardholders to make purchases at merchants that accept Visa contactless debit cards. These "ride, pay and reload cards," with a $500 limit, can be reloaded at Metro kiosks.

Visa, of San Francisco, said it also will offer personalized "ride, pay, reload and ATM cash access cards" with a $10,000 limit that cardholders can use to withdraw cash from automated teller machines. It said it would offer free direct deposit of cardholders' paychecks for people who do not have regular banking relationships.

Stephen Orfei, a senior vice president in MasterCard's advanced payments unit, said that his company is testing contactless transit cards in markets from London to New York to Taiwan, and that contactless fare cards are becoming a standard feature in requests for proposals by transit agencies.

"It allows them to get out of the business of handling cash," he said. "It plays to our core strength, which is to move the money, and it lets them do what they do best, which is to move the people."