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Utah Buses to Get RFID-Enabled Fareboxes

In time for next winter's ski season, the Utah Transit Authority plans to implement what it claims is the United States' first contactless payment system installed on buses.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 21, 2006This fall, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) will begin piloting what it claims is the United States' first contactless payment system to be installed on buses. This pilot will utilize ski passes and credit cards with embedded RFID chips, and will involve 40 UTA buses serving four ski resorts in the Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.

While a few transit systems in the United States utilize contactless fare cards, they process only the proprietary media of the manufacturer supplying the system. The UTA system, however, implemented by Australian system integrator ERG Group, will allow bus riders to use RFID-enabled credit cards issued by financial institutions, as well as RFID-enabled ski passes manufactured by Austrian RFID ticket provider Axess.


UTA's CTO, Clair Fiet
The UTA's chief technology officer, Clair Fiet, says the incentive for the new system was twofold: The transit authority hopes the system will provide greater convenience for customers, while also leading to improvements in the transportation system, "resulting from the accumulation of ridership data, analysis of the data and adjustments to our transportation system."

Currently, a small number of UTA passengers throughout the state pay cash whenever they ride a bus, while the vast majority—80 percent—use passes obtained through their employers or schools. These passes, which they present to the driver upon boarding the bus, are not recorded or tallied. As such, the UTA has no ability to count its ridership, or to determine which agency, company or school is providing what number of riders.

The ski resort buses have similar problems. On ski buses, annual ski passes and employee ID cards—neither of which contain microchips—are presently the most common way to pay for a ride on a UTA bus. "We manually accumulate the ridership tally for proper distribution to the ski resorts," Fiet says.

For the pilot, the ski resorts and the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau will issue up to 75,000 ski passes containing RFID inlays conforming to the ISO 14443 standard. Bus passengers carrying RFID-enabled ski passes from any of the four participating resorts—Alta, Snowbird, Brighton or Solitude—can pay for rides by tapping the passes against a bus's interrogator, or by presenting them within a few inches of it. Those using contactless Visa, MasterCard or American Express credit cards and debit cards can also pay for rides in a similar manner.

The UTA has developed an interface between the ERG readers and mobile data computer (MDC) already in use on UTA buses. In that way, the MDC can display details about a presented card or pass, such as whether it is valid. ERG readers can then retrieve identification information from the pass or credit card and store that data until the evening, at which time UTA employees can download it through a secure, encrypted wireless LAN connection to the ERG System 5000 software. Contactless credit card transactions can then be forwarded through the UTA's PepperCoin software system to the merchant-services bank for processing.

"The project timeline is to have the system in place for the 2006-2007 ski season," Fiet says. "In order to meet that objective, we will have a functioning system in place for testing and final acceptance by this September."
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