Installation of the 100 new machines was put on hold this year after disability advocates complained in August that the new dispensers did not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Metro said it planned to add Braille and an audio feature once the machines were in use, but under pressure, officials opted to keep the machines out of service until all of them were made accessible to people with sight impairments.
“We learned some lessons,” Christian T. Kent, assistant general manager of access services, told members of the Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee on Monday.
“We learned how important it is before we deploy any equipment to have proper vetting,” he said.
The machines are part of Metro’s campaign to move riders from paper cards to rechargeable SmarTrip cards, which Metro says are easier to administer and generally easier for riders to use. Metro now applies a $1 surcharge on trips paid for with paper fare cards.
Metro says SmarTrip is used in 84 percent of rail transactions and 90 percent of bus transactions.
Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas said Metro started rolling out the new machines, which cost $12,000 each, in late October, after the accessibility enhancements were completed. They are now available at some stations and installation is expected to be done by Nov. 9, agency officials said.
Metro also is acquiring 100 additional machines. In 2013, the agency expects to replace all of the older machines, which are ADA compliant but lack the audio feature standard in newer models, officials said.
With the installation of the new machines, the plastic rechargeable fare cards are more accessible to users, who had to switch from paper fare cards.
Denise Rush, who is a member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee and is visually impaired, said Metro’s handling of the SmarTrip vending machines reflects a lack of adequate input into Metro’s decisions.
“You have people making these decisions who are not blind, who are not in a wheelchair, who are not disabled, and that is unfair,” she said. “All I am just saying is for the future, can we consult the people who are actually going to use these things?”
She and other advocates raised concerns about the new machines being made just to sell the cards but not to add money to them.
“We can purchase them now and I can touch the screen and it talks me through and if there is not too much noise, it can assist me with no problem,” she said, describing the machines now equipped with audio instructions, a headphone plug-in and Braille.
“But now I have to find another machine where to add money to it. Or I have to go to the CVS . . .if am not at a Metro station,” she said. “I’ve got to go to two places where you should be able to do everything in one place. They need to think about these things before they make a purchase.”
Pat Sheehan, chair of the accessibility committee and a longtime advocate for the disabled in Washington, said the audio feature will make the machines fully accessible and now have the same level of accessibility that ATMs have.
He said he was pleased that Metro decided to keep the machines from public use until everyone, including people with disabilities, could use them.
“This didn’t start at its best,” said Sheehan, who is visually impaired. “The process might not have been the most elegant, but the results are good.”