Metro is about to impose a bigger penalty on riders who use paper fare cards, so the transit authority also is announcing some incentives to switch to the electronic SmarTrip cards.
Right now, the surcharge for using a paper card is 25 cents, though Metro tends to refer to it as the “discount” for using SmarTrip. Starting July 1, the date for all the fare changes, people who use the paper cards will pay $1 more for their regular fares than those using SmarTrip cards. Seniors and people with disabilities will be charged 50 cents more, because they get a discounted ride.
This was what the Metro board approved after first considering General Manager Richard Sarles’s proposal to go to a flat fare system for the paper cards, charging $6 for a peak ride and $4 off-peak.
For years, Metro has been waging a fairly successful campaign to shift riders from the paper cards to the rechargeable SmarTrip cards, which are easier for Metro to administer and generally easier for riders to use — as long as they don’t try to add value on a moving bus.
But charging $1 extra per ride just for choosing paper over plastic is a serious escalation of the campaign, so Metro is doing some things to make the transition easier.
Metro announced on Monday that it is raising the limit on the value that riders can transfer from a paper card to a SmarTrip card at a fare vending machine. It had been $7. The new limit is $20. (The limit was a security measure, intended to block fraud.)
One big concern raised during the hearings over the fare increases: If Metro is going charge so much more for paper cards, it should make the $5 SmarTrip cards easier to buy.
The transit authority says it is installing SmarTrip vending machines in all rail stations, but it won’t be done till September. Metro did announce that many stations will have them by July 1, including the top 10 stations where paper cards are sold. Among those are Foggy Bottom, Union Station, Smithsonian and Rosslyn.
Adding value online
People who register their SmarTrip cards can add value to them online, rather than having to do all their transactions at the station vending machines.
But during recent online chats, a rider asked why Metro didn’t allow people with Senior SmarTrip cards to add value online. Because the questions for online chats are anonymous, I can’t get back to this rider to clarify what he or she experienced. However, it is possible to add value to a senior card online.
What you can't do online is buy a senior card. For that, seniors need to show a valid government-issued photo ID with proof of age at a Metro sales office, or at commuter stores, and some public libraries in Montgomery County. (This is another anti-fraud measure.)
Metro also announced several other changes coming in the SmarTrip system.
As of July 1, riders will be able to load one-day rail passes and 28-day rail passes onto SmarTrip cards.
As of Sept. 1, Metro will offer $3 rebates to people who register their cards online. The card still will cost $5 to buy, but the $3 credit will be issued to the card five days after you first use it.
Starting this fall, riders who have online SmarTrip accounts will be able to set up an automatic reload for their cards, which kicks in whenever the balance drops below the amount specified by the rider. This will be similar to the way some E-ZPass accounts work. The user will have to link the SmarTrip account to a credit or debit card.