Weekly transit passes now smart cards

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Port Authority has expanded the distribution of smart fare cards to include riders who purchase weekly passes.

Customers who buy weekly passes at the Downtown Service Center, the Giant Eagle Market District store in Shadyside and the Giant Eagle at Wharton Square, South Side, will be issued the plastic cards, called ConnectCards, which have embedded computer chips. They are valid for trips taken the week following the purchase.

Riders will be able to renew the cards each week at the service center, the two stores or the roughly 20 vending machines that have been installed in T and busway stations. The machines take cash, debit cards and credit cards. Locations and more information about the program are available at www.connectcard.org.

There is no additional charge for the card. It will cost the same as a weekly pass -- $25 for Zone 1 and $37.50 for Zone 2 -- and work the same, giving unlimited rides from Sunday through Saturday.

It is the latest step in the authority's phased transition to smart card fare collection, spokesman Jim Ritchie said. "We're being cautious about the approach and doing one piece at a time."

Monthly pass holders started getting ConnectCards last month. Also using the cards are about 40,000 University of Pittsburgh students and employees, 660 annual pass customers and 360 riders who participated in a pilot test earlier this year.

The authority issued about 3,000 of the cards to monthly pass users for this month and has been "very pleased" with their reliability, Mr. Ritchie said. An average of about 6,000 riders use weekly passes.

Other expansions of the program are expected early next year, including making the cards available to customers who currently buy 10-ticket books and those who pay cash; converting the rest of the Giant Eagle stores that sell transit passes to ConnectCard outlets; and pilot testing a system that eventually will allow riders to renew or replenish their ConnectCards online.

Also still to come is the ability to purchase ConnectCards or short-term ConnecTix -- intended primarily for visitors from out of town -- at vending machines.

Although cash will continue to be accepted on buses and rail cars, the authority hopes the 30 percent of its riders who pay with cash eventually will switch to ConnectCards. A rider can decide how much value to purchase and put on the card, and fares will be deducted for each trip they take.

The authority also has begun installation of validators at busier high-platform Light Rail Transit stations. Riders will be able to go there to tap their ConnectCards rather than waiting in line at the fare booths. The validators are expected to be turned on in the spring.

Senior citizen riders will continue for the foreseeable future to show their current ID cards on vehicles and at fare booths.

Transportation

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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