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Magnetic stripe cards are standard "credit card" sized devices using international standards (ISO) for the encoding of digital data on a machine readable magnetic strip embedded on the card. The magnetic stripe may be stamped or laminated on any flat surface, such as a credit card, a hotel room cardkey or a security identification badge. The information is written on and read from the stripe by a number of types of readers at the time of transaction. Data is then transmitted to a source for validation and to complete the transaction. Today magnetic stripe cards are widely used for banking, retail, telephone systems, access control, airline ticketing and transit fare collection.
Depending on intended use, the lifespan of a card may vary - a card may be for a one-time use (such as a subway pass) or for thousands of transactions, however the typical magnetic strip card lasts less than two years.
The most common type of electronic media used in transit today is the magnetic stripe card. The inexpensive cost, proven technology, and high consumer acceptance of magnetic stripe cards have made them successful in the transit industry.
"Magnetic stripe cards that are read-write capable can also be used as stored value cards. Stored value fare cards hold value worth more than one transit fare. Because fares are deducted in an automated fashion, time-based and distance-based fare structures are made possible. Stored value cards also store information that can be used in operating multi-operator transit networks. The origins and destinations of trips can be recorded on cards and subsequently read and used to split revenues between different transit operators. Magnetic stripe cards could also be used as an “electronic purse” that can be used for small purchases from cooperating merchants. Finally, the transit system benefits from use of these cards through lower labor costs and greater money handling security.