PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority will officially introduce its new bus fare payment system on Jan. 27.

That's the day the BRTA's new fare structure goes into effect, and with it the "CharlieCard," a device that allows people to ride the county's "B" bus public transit system without paying in cash.

First introduced by the Metropolitan Boston Transportation Authority in 2006, the "CharlieCard" is a plastic smart card with a built-in chip that can be used for electronic ticketing. It keeps a cash balance and holds a combination of time-based passes that allows the holder to receive unlimited rides over a specific time period.

Although bus riders can still pay in cash, they receive discounts on fares by using the CharlieCard. The card is intended to replace bus passes.

"It's reusable and rechargeable," said BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard.

The card is also "interoperable," according to Shepard, which means it can be used in other state public transportation systems, including those that service Boston, Brockton, Cape Ann, Lowell, the Merrimack Valley and MetroWest.

The new fare structure, including the CharlieCard, was approved by the BRTA's advisory board last March, following public hearings in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington, which took place in February.

"We're trying to get away with as little paper product as possible," Shepard said.

Shepard said the implementation was delayed because the BRTA had to wait on the manufacturer before it could issue the new cards.

According to Shepard, those who pay cash for local trips (traveling through two towns) pay $1.75 for a full fare and 85 cents for a half fare. With the CharlieCard those numbers drop to $1.40 for a full fare, and 75 cents for a half fare.

For system wide trips (three towns or more), cash users pay $4.50 for a full fare and $2.25 for a half fare, while CharlieCard users pay $3.60 for a full fare, and a $1.80 for a half fare.

"It's very easy to use," Shepherd said. "You don't even have to take it out of your wallet ... You can see the transaction history right on the (fare) box when you tap it."

CharlieCards can be obtained free of charge, and Shepherd said the BRTA plans to hand them out this week at locations that attract large numbers of bus riders, including the Pittsfield WalMart on Merrill Road, and local colleges. Cards can also be obtained this week at vending machines set up at the Intermodal Transportation Center on Columbus Avenue, he said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6224 On the Web

A slide show detailing the changes in the fee structure, and links to 30- and 60-second informational videos on the CharlieCard can be found at www.BRTA.com.