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PATH to go 'smart card' route soon

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 By TOM DAVIS STAFF WRITER

When he's at a turnstile, Blair Sadewitz wishes he could pull out a plastic card, hear a "beep" and hop on a PATH train to New Jersey. "I don't understand why they don't have a more permanent card," said Sadewitz. "The cards they have now bend, and they get lost easily." In June, Sadewitz may get his wish. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plans to roll out its $73 million "smart card" system that's expected to make traveling easier for more than 210,000 daily riders on the PATH.

On Monday, the Port Authority demonstrated how the card, which contains a computer chip, will eventually replace the magnetic-strip technology at the turnstiles. Similar to E-ZPass, the turnstiles now have sensors that read the card -- no direct contact is necessary -- and deduct money from a prepaid account. The cards can be read through clothing and can work as much as six times faster than MetroCards or QuickCards. The Port Authority hopes to attract people who won't ride the PATH because they're fed up with finding change for a fare.

"Our job is to move people around the region," Chairman Anthony Coscia said. "We think ultimately this will pay for itself many times over." Though the World Trade Center station was nearly empty, some holiday travelers stopped to watch a Port Authority representative on Monday wave the card over a "touch here" sign to activate a turnstile.

Some riders asked Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman for the Port Authority, if they could buy one from him. Not until the summer, he said. "I've worked at jobs where they have it. It's so much better," said Sadewitz, who travels to New Jersey once a week to visit friends, or go to the doctor.

The Port Authority also has upgraded its ticket machines to allow riders to add single or multiple fares to their smart card accounts. Eventually, the cards could be linked to a credit card and replenished automatically when balances run low. If a card gets lost, they'll get replaced, Lavorgna said. Customers won't lose money from their prepaid account.

The Port Authority recently entered a "test phase" by presenting the cards to 10 senior citi-zens. So far, it's working, Coscia said. "You test the living daylights out of it before you implement it," Coscia said. The Port Authority hopes to eventually expand the system to link to NJ Transit, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North.

NJ Transit officials have expressed some concerns about the project's costs. Last year, however, the agency signed a "memorandum of understand-ing" with the Port Authority and MTA to move forward with developing smart card technology. "We're trying to use state-of-the-art technology," Coscia said.

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