MARTA to Start Using High-Tech Fare Cards

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(APN) ATLANTA – MARTA will be implementing a new Breeze Smart Card system at a cost of $190 million throughout 2006 to replace the current token and magnetic strip card system.

Shiny metal tokens will go the way of the dinosaur here in Atlanta, as aesthetics and nostalgia make way for efficiency and the enhancement of data collection.

MARTA passengers will still have the option of purchasing a single ride at a time, Joselyn Baker, MARTA Director for Communications, told Atlanta Progressive News. The difference is, however, the ride credits will be loaded on to the Breeze Smart Card, instead of individuals purchasing tokens.

The transition to the new Breeze Smart Card system will serve a number of goals for the city, according to MARTA’s website.

Perhaps the most important of these goals is to capture lost revenue for MARTA, which serves, and is funded by, Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Old fare boxes and turnstile jumpers have resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue each year, MARTA claims. The new entry/exit gates will make it harder to evade paying the fare and will be easier to repair, MARTA says.

The new computerized system will provide MARTA with more accurate, real-time information about where riders are riding and when, which will help the agency plan routes and service schedules.

Throughout 2005, MARTA made modifications in all 38 rail stations to prepare for the coming system, according to a MARTA press release.

On Dec. 14, 2005, the Bankhead Station, located on the Proctor Creek Line, became the first MARTA station to completely convert to the Breeze Smart Card fare collection system. Other rail stations, buses, and paratransit vans will soon follow throughout 2006.

The system will feature several components. Each station is to be equipped with six-foot high entry/exit gates, vending machines to dispense the Breeze Smart Cards, fare boxes with card readers, and a state-of-the-art computer system that links everything together, according to www.Breezecard.com

All MARTA buses and paratransit vans will be outfitted with Breeze fare collection boxes with card readers as well.

MARTA is implementing the Breeze system in two phases. First, MARTA will install the vending machines in each station. Once the vending machines are in place, MARTA will install the entry/exit gates, Joselyn Baker told Atlanta Progressive News.

While the new system is being implemented, traditional weekly and monthly magnetic strip TransCards will still be accepted because a user can swipe those cards at the new entry gates. Tokens and TransCards will be accepted at stations where the Breeze system does not yet exist, including buses.

Buses will continue to accept paper money and coins in perpetuity, according to www.Breezecard.com

However, at stations like Bankhead, where the system does exist, users are asked to take any leftover tokens they may have to the Breeze vending machines at the station entrance and exchange them for one-way, limited use Breeze Smart Cards.

MARTA is encouraging frequent riders to continue buying the weekly and monthly TransCards.

MARTA riders should know that there will be two types of Breeze Smart Cards: limited use and extended use cards.

The limited use Breeze Smart Card is a paper card not meant for long-term use and is intended by MARTA for infrequent and out of town riders. These paper cards will also serve low-income riders who are only able to afford one or two rides at a time, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

The limited use cards will also be the only Breeze Smart Cards available for use at Breeze entry gates until the entire Breeze system is complete, MARTA says.

Upon completion, MARTA will offer extended use Breeze Smart Cards. These durable, plastic cards will be intended for frequent riders.

If lost or stolen, the extended use cards have the feature of being eligible for replacement by MARTA and the cards will retain their value. The limited use cards will not have this feature, MARTA says.

Breeze Smart Cards will be available at Breeze Vending Machines (BVM’s). These machines will accept coins, bills and credit cards as payment, and will also provide receipts. Each machine will also feature an audio plug-in for headphones to assist the hearing impaired, MARTA says.

Once a person has purchased his or her card, the rider simply touches the card to the target on the front of the gate and enters, MARTA claims.

But what about system malfunctions? Currently, when riders put in their tokens but are not allowed access, and no MARTA staff are around, these riders can jump the turnstyle if their conscience allows it.

MARTA claims each station will be staffed with Breeze Customer Service Representatives to assist riders with vending machines, entry/exit gates, and any other problems customers may face. Atlanta Progressive News may conduct random audits to ensure this is the case.

MARTA plans to finish implementing the Breeze system by late Spring 2006, Baker told Atlanta Progressive News. After the completion, MARTA will still offer a period of customer conversion to the new Breeze Smart Cards before the system stops accepting tokens and TransCards.

Jonathan Springston is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News.  He may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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