"Smart card" technology that allows commuters to ride a bus or subway and buy groceries with the tap of one credit card soon will be available across much of the region's transit system, officials said Tuesday.

Long Island Rail Road customers, however, will have to wait awhile longer to take advantage of the new state-of-the art system of fare collection, because of challenges in marrying the new technology to the railroad's style of operation.

Officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority, New Jersey Transit and MasterCard gathered Tuesday for the official launch of a trial run of the new system, which will work at several MTA subway and bus lines, PATH train stations and on NJ Transit buses.

The new fare system is available at select locations for anyone with a MasterCard that has a built-in PayPass computer chip. The trial will last for six months, but MTA chief executive Jay Walder said the agency aims to have the new system permanently in place throughout most city subways and buses by sometime next year.

"The reality is that the MetroCard was a technology that was implemented in the 1990s and that, really, was created in the 1980s," Walder said at a news conference at Grand Central Terminal, where the new fare system is available at the 42nd Street shuttle.

Commuter railroads are not included in the trial. Walder said the MTA is planning a separate pilot program next year to use the new system on the railroad.

The LIRR poses some unique hurdles in incorporating the technology, he said, because the system is "ungated" - riders don't go through a turnstile to get to a train platform - and because fares vary depending on the distance of a rider's trip and the time of travel.

MTA officials said they did not yet know when the new technology would be rolled out on Long Island Bus.

The new "contactless" system allows users to pay for rides with the credit card they use for all their purchases, and to manage their accounts online. Commuters also can pay for discounted fare packages, such as an unlimited 30-day pass, online.
Gone, too, will be the frustrations of repeatedly swiping MetroCards until the turnstiles read the card's data. The new system allows users to quickly tap the cards against readers at turnstiles and keep going.

While the MTA expects to invest $275 million into upgrading its fare system over the next two years, Walder said he expects the agency to make up that amount in part by moving much of its fare-collecting operations to credit card companies, such as MasterCard.

Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of The Smart Card Alliance, a trade group based in Princeton Junction, N.J., said the only other public transportation agency in the United States to implement a credit-card-based fare system is Utah Transit, which has been using it for about two years.

Vanderhoof said the computer-chip-based smart-card technology is far more secure than magnetic-strip-based systems, like the MetroCard. But Elmont resident Lorraine Villanueva said she is apprehensive about using her credit card at a turnstile.

Villanueva, who took the LIRR into and out of Manhattan on Tuesday, said she has no complaints about the MTA's current fare system. "For me, it's working fine," she said.

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