In Dubai, card is in, cash is out.

Soon, one will not have to pay in cash to a taxi driver or for using buses but just ‘flash’ the card before a machine and go one’s way.

The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai yesterday announced the introduction of a Unified Automated Card Project which would cover all modes of transport, including buses, taxis and abras, and parking.

The project costing Dh102 million would be completed in phases. The project is being handled by Electronic Document Centre (EDC).

The fourth quarter of 2008 would see its introduction in buses, taxis, abras and waterbuses. Phase two would see the Dubai Metro also starting to accept the card.

RTA sources told Khaleej Times that there would be a system at a later stage in which the same card could be used to buy things like movie tickets and fill petrol.

According to the RTA officials, there would be two types of cards. One, known as the plastic cards, would be for people who use public transport services on a permanent basis. The second, called the Paper Ticket, would be for a short term basis valid upto a maximum of one week.

Ali Mahdi, Director of the Unified Automated Card of Transport Systems, said, “The cost of the cards has not been decided yet.”

The system works like this. If a person is travelling in the metro, he would just need to wave the card in front of a machine near the exit gate when he is coming out. The machine would automatically calculate the fare and deduct the amount from the card. Once the money in the card is over, one can top it up just like the phone cards. “Recharging could be done in any of the metro and bus stations,” Ali Mahdi said.

He said the parking metres in Dubai would also be upgraded so that the cards could be used.

“We are not going to change the existing system at the moment. Gradually, we would stop the manufacture of the existing parking cards. The new cards would replace them,” added the official.

“This card is safe, difficult to counterfeit and modelled on worldwide practices. In the future, it could be sold at the commercial outlets, petrol stations and ATMs. This will make it accessible to our customers and enhance their confidence in the services delivered by the RTA,” said Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of the RTA.

Ali Mahdi said the top-up method would be made easier. “Facilities will also be provided for ‘auto top-up’ where cards are linked to a designated credit or debit account of the cardholder for debiting the recharge amount. Internet top-ups will also be available.”

All transactions, including sales, top-up and usage transactions, would be processed through a central clearing house operated under the direct control of RTA, through the Unified Card Department, said the official.

The unified card service would be launched for public buses, water buses, taxis and parking metres in the fourth quarter of 2008.

In the third quarter of 2009, the unified card would be launched in Dubai Metro, whereas in the fourth quarter of 2009, more customer care-related services would be introduced on the web, including online recharging (topping up) and automatic reloading to start using the same card on the Metro.