Mass. transit authority issues smart cards for e-ticketing

By the end of the month, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston will have delivered 2.4 million smart cards for use in its CharlieCard electronic ticketing initiative.

The CharlieCards will replace paper tickets for passengers on the authority’s bus and subway system. Gemalto supplies the smart cards, which are based on NXP Semiconductors’ Mifare chip.

The cards are held near a reader that deducts the fare or validates a time-based pass. The data moving between a Gemalto card and a card reader is encrypted.

Gemalto’s transportation smart cards are also used in systems in Amsterdam, London, and Paris. The company has delivered more than 100 million transit smart cards globally. Based in the Netherlands, Gemalto was created in 2006 through the merger of Axalto and Gemplus.

Manny Menard, business development manager for transit at Gemalto North America, said the company began shipping smart cards to the MBTA in October 2006. The CharlieCards saw some limited use last December, but the primary rollout to consumers began in January.

The total smart card shipment is expected to reach 2.4 million at month’s end. An additional 1.1 million cards will be delivered in the coming months, Menard added.

CharlieCards arrive at the transportation authority already encoded so they can be immediately distributed. Menard said having Gemalto handle the encoding saves money for transit agencies that would otherwise do the encoding themselves. He said the practice of vendors encoding transit smart cards is not yet typical in the industry. “The project is groundbreaking in that sense,” Menard said.

The CharlieCard is named for a fictional character who, failing to produce an adequate fare to exit, was doomed to ride forever beneath the streets of Boston. The Kingston Trio and other groups recorded a folk song recounting Charlie’s plight.

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