He envisions that it may be similar to buying fuel for a vehicle. "If you have distance-based fares, you don't know what the fee will be when you get on, so it's more similar to pumping gas. When you pump gas and you present your card at the pump, it goes through an authorization," Cook said. And depending on how much you pump, your card is debited or charged that amount. He imagines the situation will be similar with the UTA's EFC system.

Of course, people can still pay with good old-fashioned cash. But Roberts thinks that cash transactions will occur less and less, perhaps similar to how paying with checks has fallen out of favor today.

"It wasn't that long ago that all of us were writing checks at the grocery store. And now, somebody who writes a check at the grocery store kind of annoys everybody behind them because they're taking more time than everybody's used to," he said.

The UTA also plans to let people track their travel history online through the transit authority's Web site, thanks to the information collected by eO. Transit authority personnel can also track rider activity, but not by personal identity.

"We have designed the system from the beginning to make sure that no employee of UTA can track somebody's individual movements by their identity. Thus, with our third-party pass program, the schools employers and ski resorts provide to us a list of card numbers," Roberts said. The UTA tracks information by these numbers, not by name.

Cook said the UTA is currently in Phase I of the project. When Phase II is rolled out, possibly in late 2009 or 2010, people can buy additional fare products within the credit and debit architecture, like prepaid passes of varying amounts or gift cards.

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.