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    PATH ride is touch and go for seniors   

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 By COTTON DELO JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
The Jersey Journal The long-awaited PATH SmartLink card is scheduled to be unveiled to the public this summer. Resembling credit cards and embedded with a microchip, SmartLink cards operate by touching a circular target on turnstiles and vending machines - and should function without being removed from a wallet.

PATH turnstiles have been outfitted to handle the technology since October 2005, according to Port Authority spokesman Marc LaVorgna, and a small-scale pilot test has been undertaken. The next step is to distribute cards to seniors registered in PATH's reduced fare program - about 4,500 of them - in a phased roll-out starting with 500 randomly selected recipients this month. Each week, 1,000 seniors are due to receive cards, starting next month, and assuming there are no kinks in the system, full roll-out should take place over the summer, LaVorgna said.

Miriam Cunningham, 79, of Jersey City, was part of the random senior group to receive a SmartLink card this month, and she poured over a glossy instruction sheet at the Grove Street PATH station on Friday to figure out how to use it. She felt the card would ultimately save her time and effort. "You won't have to fiddle around looking for the change and the correct dollars and putting it in the correct place," she said. Though not all PATH commuters were familiar with SmartLink, it had a certain undeniable logic to most.

"With electronic devices like iPod, we're squeezing every second out of the day that we can," said Richard Calandrella, 48, of Manhattan. Fanny Challapa, 42, of Bayonne, reflected on the temperamental nature of turnstiles in reading - and sometimes rejecting - MetroCards or PATH QuickCards. "Sometimes you put them in the machines, and they don't work," said Challapa, who hoped a SmartLink card triggered by censors would spare her this aggravation.

SmartLink cards will eventually replace PATH QuickCards, which are already being phased out, LaVorgna said. The pricing is the same as for MetroCard, and credit will eventually be available for purchase over the Internet. Another long-term project is a regional card that could be used for PATH, NJ Transit and MTA alike, but this is in the early phases of development, LaVorgna said.

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