The smart cards have been in the works for almost eight years. In 2011, Metro stated they would launch in 2013, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Later, the target year was 2015 ... which also wasn't met. While part of the project involves replacing fareboxes on 400 Metro buses, Metro officials blame the five-year delay on the difficulty of incorporating systems on moving buses and trains.
And even now, implementing the $31 million project will be a gradual process. Right now, the cards are available only at the MetroStore next to the MetroLink station at Eighth and Pine streets downtown and they are merely an alternate way of paying for fares. At some point this year, the smart cards will be available in ticket vending machines at bus stations, MetroLink stations and at some retail stores, too.
The cards have a computer chip that stores cash. The value would be automatically deducted whenever someone boards and then taps on equipment that reads the fares. Metro plans to have a way to allow customers to upload monetary value to the cards online.
Metro says it will soon begin teaching customers how to use them, with a major publicity rollout planned.
"We're pushing the cards out to a larger group of customers as we continue to test this software and prepare for the full launch," Jessica Mefford-Miller, a Metro executive in charge of planning, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The cards will make it more convenient to pay Metro fares, but Metro says they will also help police and Metro security officers spot people who sneak on the trains without paying. (Such fare-jumpers are blamed in part for the crime problems that have plagued the MetroLink line.) Staffers will have hand-held devices to scan the cards.
Once the full transition from paper to plastic is complete, all passengers will have to tap their card at validating machines before boarding, which will trigger either a red or green light at the top of the machine. Customers will still be able to pay cash as well, or obtain a one-time plastic ticket for their travels.
A total of 155 cards have been issued at the MetroStore since mid-April to Metro employees and volunteers. Those were free of charge, but there will eventually be a fee between $2 and $5 to obtain a card, according to Mefford-Miller.
Eventually, Metro also wants to incorporate a mobile payment option on smartphones, as airlines do. That process will involve seeking proposals from other companies to develop this service.
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