Smart cards to upgrade U-Pass system

By January 2008, the U-PASS sticker affixed to the University ID card will be extinct, replaced by "smart cards" designed to incorporate all things UW — the photo ID, Husky Card Account, library card and U-PASS information — into one card.

"The smart card will make it easier for employees and students to get access to transit, as the U-PASS sticker will be replaced with an electronic fare media," said Peter Dewey, assistant director of transportation services at the UW.

The seven local transportation agencies (Community Transit, Everett Transit, King Country Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries) came together to bring about this change under a project called ORCA (One Regional Card for All) in response to the new technical requirements to link the ID card and U-PASS databases managed by two different services.

Validation stickers, previously sent out at the beginning of every school year, have been left out of the new system.

The new card contains an embedded microchip processor that can keep track of fare transactions, said Marty Perlman, communications specialist for Housing and Food Services.

The purpose of the new system is to adhere to the new technical requirements and to simplify the potential multitude of cards for users. The card needs to be brought within a few inches of a reader for a transaction to go through.

However, this causes some concern among U-PASS users over various issues such as cost, privacy and overall hassle.

"It's like 'Big Brother,'" said graduate student Elizabeth Kubicek. "They know where you're going all the time."

But according to the U-PASS-Smart Card Proposal, submitted by Husky Card Accounts manager Sherry Ochsner, more benefits should arise, including a one-card solution for customer services as well as continual participation in the U-PASS program, since the smart chip technology conversion is mandatory.

Even so, since this is a new system, glitches should be expected.

"I'm really not fond of the idea," said graduate student Athena Seegert. "I'm already only carrying one card."

According to the proposal, the total projected cost to implement the system is between $168,000 and $269,500. This includes staff, software and programming expenditures from the beginning of this project.

The price of the U-PASS per quarter this year for students was $44 and $61.80 for faculty and staff. The cost of the new smart card has not yet been released.

Until the program goes into effect, though, the U-PASS sticker will still be accepted. The new card will also still include a magnetic stripe, so services such as Campus Automated Access Management System door access, library checkout and the Husky Card account will not be impacted.

In the spring, students and employees will be asked to take part in the decision-making process for the card's new look, and depending on how soon regional transportation will be ready for the smart cards, re-carding could begin as soon as summer or fall 2007.

"With the phasing out of the U-PASS sticker for transit users and the use of new card-reading technologies, the committee realized that having one University ID card with multiple capacities was the direction to go," Ochsner said.

Reach reporter Sheena Nguyen at sheenanguyen@thedaily.washington.edu

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