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Users of public transportation in Los Angeles County soon will have one

of the most advanced fare collection systems in the country to help speed

them on their way, following the award of an $84 million contract to install

a smart card system countywide.

The multifunction, chip-based smart cards will be usable on buses, subways

and light rail, providing the first "seamless" method for riders to move

around the Los Angeles transportation grid. They simply "flash" the card

before a wireless smart card reader, which takes the fare information from

the card without having to make contact with it.

Riders don't even have to take the card out of their pocket or purse

if they pass close enough to the reader.

There are 450,000 frequent bus riders throughout the county, according

to Gary Wosk, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority

(MTA), and 750,000 cards have already been ordered to also cover users of

other public transport.

"The hope is that this system will eventually eliminate the use of coins

and tokens completely," he said. "It should also help to cut down on fare

fraud, to the tune of $150 million over 15 years."

County riders will get their first taste of the new system this summer,

when a temporary paper version of the smart card will be available. The

real chip-based card system is expected to be fully installed by 2004.

The MTA also seeks to partner with other government entities, as well

as schools, convention centers, parking lots and retailers close to transit

stops and rail stations, since the cards can also be programmed to pay for

other items, such as soft drinks from vending machines.

Los Angeles has had this smart card system in mind for a few years,

said Wosk, but will benefit from the experience that the contract holder,

Cubic Transportation Systems Inc., has had installing similar systems in

Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The Washington system, for example, was launched

in June 1999.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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