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Posted at 09:34 AM ET, 11/02/2011

Changes in SmarTrip creates questions for riders

Metro’s move to to comply with IRS rules on transit benefits and to save riders from having to stop at fare machines to download them to their SmarTrip cards has caused some confusion for commuters.

Riders are now able to touch their their electronic fare cards at the subway gate to download transit funds. The balance that shows at the gate doesn’t reflect all of the money a person may have available for different uses, which has caused some concern.

Under the new system, there are now three “purses” for commuter benefits. One is for transit; another for parking and a third shows what Metro calls “personal stored value.”

That amount can be seen when a user logs into his SmarTrip account at wmata.com.

Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, explained that Metro’s system can “only show you value of one of the purses on the displays.”

What is being displayed on the faregate is the amount in the transit purse or if a rider is at a parking facility it will show the amount in the parking purse.

Once those amounts are drawn down, the account then starts to use what is in the personal stored value, which can be used for transit or parking.

Metro had to separate commuters transit and parking benefits to comply with rules from the Internal Revenue Service.

“We put these changes in place on top of a legacy system that is 12 years old,”Stessel said, referring to the implementation of SmarTrip.

The IRS decided in 2006 that commuter benefit accounts should be kept separate. The rule was supposed to take effect in 2008, but the IRS has granted extensions. Metro had until until Jan. 1, 2012.

Under the new system, employers or third-party providers that manage the commuter benefits can decide if any unused amounts will carry over to the next month or whether riders will lose the funds.

Riders need to tap their SmarTrip cards to a fare machine, fare box, fare gate or parking garage exit for an automatic update that will reflect the separation of parking and transit funds, Metro said.

Riders then do not have to load benefits at SmarTrip machines. Instead, they can tap their cards at the fare box on buses, fare gates at rail stations, or at parking lot exits and the payment will automatically be processed from the correct account.

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By  |  09:34 AM ET, 11/02/2011

 
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