Time for a Refill?

August 31, 2012

Every Metro rider has taken one of those miracle trips that never should have worked out. There’s a 15-minute gap between trains, but you somehow manage to arrive just as one is rumbling into the station, then you dash down the escalator, lunge through the doors and marvel at your good fortune all the way to your destination.

Typically, in this scenario, you pause to glance at the faregate, momentarily terrified that you’ve neglected to add money to your SmarTrip card — and then sigh with relief when you see you still have 10 cents on there.

Those days are over.

Starting Saturday, SmarTrip users must have a minimum of $1.20 on their cards to get anywhere. It’s a reasonable switch: Paper farecard users (who already get penalized a buck per ride) need a minimum balance, and in exchange for the hassle, Metro is giving folks a $3 rebate when they register a new SmarTrip card.

Still, people have been dreading what the change will mean for their routine. “I always go negative,” 23-year-old Rachel Gottke of McLean said Wednesday at the Foggy Bottom station. She vowed to pay more attention to her balance.

Riders would probably be less annoyed if Metro had timed this change to coincide with one planned for late September. With a new autoload feature, SmarTrip users will be able to have their credit cards charged automatically when they reach a certain minimum balance. That’s something everyone seems to be eager to see. “The easier, the better,” said Ray Miller, 57, of Foggy Bottom.

While we wait, we’re being bombarded by WMATA’s new ad campaign for SmarTrip emphasizing just how clever the card is, especially now that it can hold daily, weekly and monthly passes. But riders are envisioning ways to make SmarTrip even more intelligent.

“For people who don’t check their balance like me, it’d be nice to get a text alert that it’s dropped below a certain amount,” Miller said. He’s right. Kishana Williamson, 24, who lives in College Park but grew up riding the subway in New York, would like to see the card work like the ones back home. “I wish I could swipe one time and not have to worry about it,” she said. Twenty-year-old Alex Kemp of Dupont would prefer a SmarTrip that acted like an all-purpose debit card he could use for other purchases around town.

And Manuel Mijango of Alexandria would settle for the card just remembering the user name and password he set about five years ago. The 31-year-old can’t retrieve his info or take advantage of any online services.

He’d like to give Metro his opinion on several other topics, but Mijango is planning on keeping his two cents. He needs them — and $1.18 more — to get home.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby | August 31, 2012