The Maryland Transit Administration has again delayed its long-promised plan to introduce "smart card" technology for payment of fares - pushing the estimated start time to next fall.

Meanwhile the agency also announced it has begun taking credit cards for fare payments and purchases of passes at subway stations.


The MTA has been talking about introducing smart card technology since at least 2001, when the state awarded a contract to a company for the technology, with plans to begin using smart cards by 2003. That year the agency stopped accepting tokens with the expectation that the cards would be in use in about a year. But the implementation date has continually been pushed back - to summer 2008, to October of this year and most recently to this winter.

MTA spokeswoman Jawauna Greene said the agency has decided it needs to conduct more beta testing on bus and light-rail systems after finishing tests on the Metro subway Nov. 30. "We're going to give you the best product we can when it's ready."


Greene said the MTA received positive feedback from riders who participated in its beta test this fall. But she said the agency needs more time to work through such complicated technical issues as ensuring the cards will work properly at MTA facilities as well as Washington's Metro subway and buses.

The wallet-size pieces of plastic - similar to the SmartTrip cards that have been used for many years in Washington - store credits for fares on an embedded microchip. They will be accepted on MTA's core services: buses, light rail and the Metro subway, but not on MARC trains or commuter buses.

The MTA also announced Tuesday that it has equipped its subway stations with payment machines that take credit cards as well as cash. The machines will accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express cards.

The agency expects to have all its light rail stations able to take credit cards within 90 days.