Paper or Plastic?


You think you know your friends. But then, one day, you walk to the Metro together. And as you waltz on through the gates, you look back and see your buddy doing the unthinkable: fumbling with a paper fare card.

“Seriously?” That’s my typical response in this situation, which has happened with more frequency than I can fathom. It’s one thing not to have a SmarTrip if you’re a tourist, or one of those suburban folks who’s always stuck behind the wheel. It’s quite another to be a daily commuter and still be clinging to that flimsy relic — whether it’s out of laziness or paranoid fear of being tracked by “the man.”

If my rolling eyes haven’t gotten this message across, I’m guessing the introduction of higher fares this week did the trick. Since July 1, everyone’s been paying more to ride Metro, but it’s the paper posse that’s really been getting the squeeze. They’re now charged a buck more per trip than SmarTrip users.

So it’s time to go shopping (to save money!), and not just for the holdouts. The new charges mean it’s common sense for everyone to have at least one additional SmarTrip as a backup in case your wallet gets lost/stolen or you want to lend one to an out-of-town visitor.

The advice I generally give — along with that eye roll — is something I’m not sure most Metro riders know. You don’t have to buy a SmarTrip to go plastic. The other option is the CharmCard, Baltimore’s completely compatible alternative. Both cards can be used interchangeably on buses, subway and light rail in Washington and Baltimore. Other than the name, the only noticeable difference is the cost. A SmarTrip or CharmCard will set you back $10, but a SmarTrip comes loaded with only $5, while a CharmCard has $7.50.

You’re thinking you need to have a pal in Baltimore to get your hands on one of these bargains, right? Nope. On WMATA.com’s online fare purchase site, the CharmCard is right there under the SmarTrip. (And that’s right under the President Obama commemorative SmarTrip, which costs $10 but comes with no loaded value. Fox News, I leave any jokes about that up to you.)

Here’s the real shocker from the site: “Metro does not charge for shipping and handling.” Now, that’s a good deal, even if “the man” is watching.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · July 5, 2012