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Local transit pursues regional fare card

LAWRENCEVILLE - Later this year, Gwinnett County transit riders may be able to use ATM-like cards to board the county's crimson buses as well as other buses and trains across the region.

MARTA is in the process of installing an electronic fare system so its passengers can use the "Breeze" cards, and the county is talking with MARTA about plugging into it.

Gwinnett Transportation Director Brian Allen said it's just a matter of working out the details.

"We don't have a philosophical problem with it," Allen said. "We want to be regional players."

Cobb County commissioners voted last Tuesday to tie their suburban bus lines into the fare system. And others across metro Atlanta are considering doing likewise.

The upside to bus riders and train takers is they will be able to use one fare medium to jump between the various transit systems. And they will be able to store dozens of rides on the Breeze cards and draw them down over time, much like a debit card.

The fare cooperation comes as elected officials across metro Atlanta talk about meshing their transit systems into some sort of regional network.

Exactly what form that network will take is unknown, but a recently created panel that includes Gwinnett Chairman Charles Bannister has begun a multiyear review and will come up with recommendations.

MARTA has outfitted about 90 of its buses with Breeze technology and installed it at eight train stations, said MARTA spokeswoman Joselyn Baker. The Doraville MARTA station closest to Gwinnett County will not be converted for several months, she said.

"We are hopeful that at the end of the day, customers who travel from system to system will have the ease of using one card," Baker said.

MARTA is paying $190 million for the fare system, she said. As part of it, MARTA is adding new fare gates at its train stations and vending machines that will dispense the cards and let riders add money to their balance.

Cobb County is installing new fare boxes on its 83 buses. Riders will wave the cards in front of them to deduct the fare amount, said Cobb Transportation Director David Montanye.

"Breeze is something we want to be involved in and the timing just worked out well for us," he said.

The cards are embedded with a computer chip, and plastic ones will be available for frequent riders, and paper cards for temporary users.