If transit managers have their way, fare card machines may go the way of the onboard conductor. Transit systems around the country are examining ways to phase out station card sales by linking ride purchases to banks.

The Washington D.C. Metro system is currently testing a combined smart card-ATM card in partnership with First Union Bank. Money can be inserted onto the SmarTrip smart card from First Union ATM machines, in addition to the machines at Metro stations. The effort is a baby step toward weaning Metro off of handling cash for the cards. Eventually, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority envisions farecards or SmarTrip cards that are automatically tied to credit or debit cards.

"Each organization should do what it does best," says Peter Benjamin, chief financial officer of WMATA. "Banks should move money, and we should move people. We want to get to the point where we're no longer issuing the cards--that's when we can say we've really been successful."

The Chicago Transit Authority is considering a similar proposal that would allow riders to purchase fare cards at ATM machines. The program would possibly include automatic fare deductions and would significantly expand the number of fare card sale locations outside of transit stations.

In addition to increased convenience, D.C. transit officials believe that through a banking system, users won't be as price-sensitive to a ride on the Metro. "People make decisions based on what they think it costs," Benjamin says. "They see the amount on the card and think it costs a lot. With banks involved, there's no perceived cost. People will never even notice."