Where new card technology meets old infrastructure, mass transit systems and highway authorities find themselves increasingly in the unaccustomed role of entrepreneur. Their move to advanced payment media puts many state and local transportation agencies on a faster track than some of the banks they may end up using to settle their electronic transactions. Several payment media are already in use, at least to an experimental degree, ranging from basic magnetic-stripe cards or smart cards for paying bus and subway fares to toll-collection systems using radio-frequency transponders to debit passing drivers' accounts. Because these users are public agencies, the systems' potential payoffs in reduced labor costs, fraud, and fare evasion could accrue to the taxpaying public.

* * * The Washington Metro Area Transportation Authority, using a $1 million grant from the Federal Transportation Administration, is testing its own version of a multiapplication smart card, called the Go Card. It could some day displace the flimsy paper tickets with magnetic stripes that serve as today's Washington Metro stored-value tickets. The Go Card, which is about three times as thick as a credit card and communicates data to terminals via radio frequencies, was initially distributed in February to 1,100 commuters for use at five parking facilities, 29 rail stations, and three bus lines in place of cash, tokens, monthly passes, or magnetic-stripe cards. A battery-powered circuit board embedded in the card is waved over a target an antenna on turnstiles and fare collection boxes and the fare is debited from the card's balance. Information regarding time, date, and place can be recorded and transmitted to a central data base. Value can be replenished by inserting cash into special kiosks near trains and buses. Unlike smart cards currently promoted by banks, Go Cards are contactless they don't have to be inserted directly into a reading device. The system has the advantage of no moving parts and less maintenance, and it can process transactions fast enough to accommodate rush-hour crowds of hundreds of thousands of commuters. In transit, you have to process people very quickly, said David Dekozan, director of marketing at Cubic Automatic Revenue Collection Group, Vienna, Va., which developed the Go Card program. With the contact card, you have to stop, insert the card, and pull it back out, he said. Cubic, which is part of San Diego-based Cubic Corp., decided the idea was important enough that we developed our own contactless RF card. The Go Card is the latest advance on Cubic's automated fare systems that are familiar to riders of the Metro in Washington, Bart in San Francisco, and the subways of New York City, Oslo, and London. The Go Card was first used in London in 1990. If the Go Card is rolled out in Washington after the year-long test, the next generation of cards would have microprocessor chips powered by the target antenna in turnstiles, Mr. Dekozan said. The cards would be slimmed to the same size as credit cards, no longer needing a battery.

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