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Paper or plastic for Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority?

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

At the grocery store, shoppers are sometimes asked, “Paper or plastic?”

For local transit riders, the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority will soon be making the transition from paper ride tickets to plastic.

Within the month, the ConnectCard smart card system will be unveiled, and the authority is recruiting regular riders for a pilot test of the credit-card-sized cards.

“We're looking for 55 to 60 people who ride regularly to test this out for us,” said Marco Roncone, executive director of the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority.

Participants in the test will be eligible for random drawings for such gifts as free 31-day passes.

Riders interested in joining the program can do so at www.mmvta.com.

The ConnectCard will offer three base products — 31-day rolling passes, 10-day trip tickets and stored value.

“Right now, we hold everyone to a calendar pass,” Roncone said of the 31-day passes. “With this, you can buy a pass any time in the month.”

Riders will pass the card along a light on the fare box. Passes will be available for all MMVTA routes.

Under the stored value product, the card user can put cash on the card. Eventually that card's value can be used to pay tolls for rides on the Port Authority of Allegeheny County. Westmoreland County, City of Washington, Butler and Fayette transit rides.

The system will automatically inform the rider how many days are left on a 31-day pass or multi-ride trip ticket.

The pilot program will begin in mid-March when the cards are distributed to test riders for use by the beginning of April. The test will run through the end of June.

“That should give us enough data to make sure the cards operate the way they should,” Roncone said. “When we're done, other agencies will use them. We're the first agency, other than the Port Authority, to test them.”

Eventually, transit riders will be able to purchase rides on line, similar to how E-ZPass operates on line.

“It's the same concept as E-ZPass in that you can use this system in other transit participants,” Roncone said. “It is proven technology, but we are tailoring it for MMVTA use.”

The stored value and 31-day passes can be used on all MMVTA service runs.

Roncone said the system will eliminate most of the cost of printing paper tickets and will give authority officials better accountability of which passes are being used by riders.

“We can't fully take cash out of the system, based on our demographics,” Roncone said. “But the ultimate goal is to limit cash as much as possible.”

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