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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 01:45 PM ET, 05/11/2012

Metro SmarTrip card finds new, unauthorized user

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

About 5:30 p.m. on a recent Friday, I lost my Metro SmarTrip card in the National Gallery of Art. I returned to the room where I had been viewing a special exhibit but did not find it.

I notified the museum’s security guards, the coat check attendant, the information desk and the lost-and-found department, hoping that the museumgoer who found my card would turn it in.

When I returned home and called to report my lost card, I was told that someone had found it but, instead of turning it in, had used it at 6:08 p.m. to go from the Archives Metro station in the District to the Braddock Road station in Virginia.

I was surprised and disappointed, since all SmarTrip cards are returnable to their owners via the code on the back of the card.

Please encourage your readers to return lost Metro cards. Not only did I experience the anxiety of losing my card, but I also had to walk the 2.3 miles home from the museum, pay for a new SmarTrip card and absorb the loss of the illegitimate user’s trip home.

Eileen Berman, the District

DG: I hoped this would end as a good Samaritan story. Instead, it’s about a thief.

If you happen to come across a SmarTrip card, it’s not the same as finding a dime on the sidewalk. The SmarTrip card can be restored to the owner, along with its stored value.

But if you lose a card, it’s best not to wait for the Samaritan. Berman had done the essential thing and registered her card, so she could call Metro, get it canceled and have the balance transferred to a new card. This is not a perfect recovery. She noted that it takes three to five days to get the balance transferred to the new card, a lag time Metro should correct as it upgrades its technology.

For those who have a similar unfortunate experience and have a registered card, Metro says there are three ways to report a lost or stolen card:

Call 888-762-7874 and speak to an operator. If you know the serial number of the missing card, report that. Also provide the name of the registered card holder, the address where the card was registered and your current address if they are different, your phone number, the time and place the card was last used — by you — and the approximate balance you had.

You can e-mail this information to SmarTrip@wmata.com. Or you can go to your online SmarTrip account and report it. That option is available only if you’ve registered your card and established an online account. You can create the account at this Web page: smartrip.wmata.com.

Missing from map

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I noticed the new Metro map does not include any indication of the free transfer between the Farragut stations. Do you know whether that was a deliberate omission or an unfortunate oversight?

Steve Offutt,
Arlington County

DG: It wasn’t an oversight. The virtual tunnel that Metro calls the “Farragut Crossing” allows riders with SmarTrip cards to transfer for free when they walk between Farragut North and Farragut West. But that won’t be marked on thenew Metro maps.

Barbara Richardson, Metro’s assistant general manager for customer service, communications and marketing, said in an e-mail that “one of the major objectives of updating the map was to streamline and de-clutter it as much as possible.”

She said that message came through in Metro’s customer research throughout the lengthy redesign process. You’ll notice that text bubbles describing points where and when some trains turn back have vanished.

Richardson also said that the virtual tunnel is more of a fare policy, which she thinks can be communicated best in other ways, such as on station signs and through advisories on Metro’s Web site.

Mangled messages

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On top of the broken escalators, surly staff and malfunctioning trains, Metro has another big problem: communications.

Here’s a few examples.

“Is that your bag?” That’s what we’re supposed to ask when we see an unattended bag. But who are we supposed to pose the question to? I mean, that’s what defines an unattended bag, right? No one there?

We’re also asked to say something if we see something. Sure. That makes sense. I see someone doing something wrong, I tell — who, exactly? The chance that you’ll see a Metro employee or police officer is unlikely.

Well, I’ll just grab my smartphone — oh, wait. We are also being told that the theft of electronic devices is on the rise. So keep them out of sight!

So I dig my valuable phone out from my bag and dial — what number? Because I don’t have a great memory, I don’t remember the 10-digit Metro police phone number announced periodically.

Which brings up a final point. A frequent announcement begins like this: “Is this your first time riding on Metro?” and then goes on to patiently explain that the car doors don’t work like elevator doors, and you could be in deep if you don’t remember this key fact.

But unless I’m dragging a couple of whiny kids up a broken escalator after a frustrating 10 minutes working a Farecard machine, do I really hear this message? How about something quick and to the point? Or a sign? The same sign with the Metro police number on it?

Well, they told me to say something if I saw something. Here you go.

Pat Lewis, Arlington County

DG: Metro has made several advances in its electronic communications with riders, but there’s room for plenty of improvement on those crucial communications that occur on the platforms and trains. Many riders will think Lewis is a step ahead by virtue of being able to hear what the Metro announcements are saying.

I keep the Metro transit police phone number on speed dial, so let me share that with you: 202-962-2121. And remember that in an emergency, 911 works.

By  |  01:45 PM ET, 05/11/2012

Categories:  Metro | Tags:  DC transportation, Metro, WMATA

 
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