- Imagine a time when your wallet or purse
does not bulge with numerous plastic cards, notes and small change.
- Imagine one single card, small enough
to fit into a fashionably svelte purse, which could be used for everything
from teleshopping to withdrawing cash, paying for your bus ride and your
- Just such a "smartcard" is
being piloted in the North East of England later this year and could signal
the beginning of the end for cash.
- Newcastle City Council is one of more
than 60 European companies, local authorities and national governments
taking part in 'Project Distinct'.
- The plan is for the "combi card"
to be used as a bank card, storecard, loyalty card and bus pass rolled
- It contains a tiny silicon chip known
as an "electronic purse" which can be customised to include details
of bank accounts, social security numbers, membership of various organisations
and discount schemes and even medical records.
- The card would be swiped by special machines
which automatically distill information from the chip, and then can add
loyalty points, award discounts or debit and credit the owner's account.
- Among the participants in Project Distinct
are the Finnish government, the cities of Turin in Italy and Salonica in
Greece and the Dutch province of Zeeland.
- Millions of smartcard users
- Mick Riley, Head of Special Projects
at Newcastle City Council, says: "In Holland there are two million
smartcard or 'chipcard' users and within a few years it is predicted there
will be 25m. In Britain they are not well developed."
- Newcastle is hosting a smartcard seminar
on March 19 and there will be representatives from IBM, BT, Telewest, ABN/Amro
Bank and the French company Gemplus -- the world's largest manufacturer
- Newcastle City Council will be seeking
to recruit several British local authorities, government agencies and companies
to the project.
- One of them is Newcastle United Football
Club, who are about to increase the capacity of their St James's Park ground
from 35,000 to 50,000. There are fears about the increasing traffic coming
into the city on match days, and Mr Riley says it may be possible to use
the new smartcard to encourage football supporters to leave their cars
at home and come in by bus or Metro by offering discounts on club merchandise.
- Do drink - and drive for free
- And there are numerous other applications:
breweries, for example, would be able to pay the bus fares of pub regulars.
- Newcastle is at the forefront of smartcard
technology. In the spring government minister Dr David Clark will launch
a new range of special information kiosks in the city centre.
- The kiosks, accessible by wheelchair
users, will include video conferencing facilities and users will be able
to find out about bus timetables, social security office opening times
and leisure information at the press of a button.
- There are also plans to enable housebound
people to pay for their shopping electronically.
- Mr Riley says the plan was for the card
to be used in telephones and cash dispensers and as a credit card to pay
car tax, council tax and other bills and licences.
- "It has the potential to be your
phonecard, credit card, storecard, National Insurance card and bus pass
all rolled into one.
- Biometric identification
- The cards have room for photographs and
space for "biometric identification" -- fingerprints, retina
scans or voice imprints -- which would provide 100% security.
- Mr Riley says he hopes other cities in
Britain will take up the idea. The project is funded by a European Union
grant, and the Government has been kept fully informed on its progress.
- "It's not in Newcastle's interest
to come up with a card which is unique to Newcastle. We want it to be as
widely applicable as possible," he says.
- Gemplus spokesman Andre Calder says Britain
is lagging behind the rest of Europe when it comes to smartcard technology
with America even further behind.
- Most British banks and building societies
use cards with magnetic strips in them but, he says, Midland Bank is conducting
trials with smartcards in Swindon and the credit card company Visa is conducting
a similar experiment in Leeds.
- But the cash-less and card-poor future
is not close yet. Mr Calder says that "the infrastructure for smartcards
does not exist. Many cash dispensers accept them, but most electronic tills
don't and it will cost millions to replace them."