Metro riders will be able to add fare to online accounts

(Nikki Kahn/WASHINGTON POST) - Riders who use Metro’s electronic fare cards will be able to add money to their SmarTrip accounts online, one of several improvements the transit authority plans to introduce this year.

Riders who use Metro’s electronic fare cards will be able to add money to their SmarTrip accounts online, one of several improvements the transit authority plans to introduce this year.

General Manager Richard Sarles touted the additional services at a Thursday meeting of Metro’s board of directors, the last before the panel recesses for the summer.

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In his first six-month report since being hired as Metro’s permanent chief, Sarles also said the agency will create a “virtual tunnel” between Farragut North on the Red Line and Farragut West on the Orange and Blue lines, allowing riders to go from one station to the other without paying a new fare. Metro will also bring back a “mystery shopper’” program, where undercover inspectors evaluate service in the system.

Riders have long wanted the virtual tunnel between Farragut North and Farragut West to ease movement between different parts of the system.

The software is being tested now, and “assuming no major issues are discovered,” Sarles said, it will be rolled out in September or October. It will allow riders about 20 minutes to move from one station to the other, Metro said, but details on the exact time are still being worked out.

Metro also has been testing a program with 5,000 riders that allows SmarTrip card users to “avoid lines at vending machines and load value to their accounts from any computer,” Sarles said. That service will be available to all SmarTrip users by the end of August, he said.

Metro expects to resurrect the mystery shopper later this year to “help coach employees, recognize good service and monitor progress to improve customer satisfaction,” Sarles said.

“Every month, I am inspired by the high level of customer service reflected in the employees we spotlight” at board meetings, Sarles said. “But the reality is that not all of our customers enjoy this same high level of service, and I want to raise the bar to ensure that best-in-class is delivered consistently.”

A previous board had eliminated the mystery shopper to save money, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

The transit authority also revealed that it rolled out a feature last week allowing users to receive text or e-mail alerts about elevator outages. Riders can sign up for the Electronic Elevator Notification System, known as ElStat, at elstat.wmata.com.

During the meeting, Metro’s board approved its first set of bylaws and a code of ethics, while a work group set up by the mayor of the District and the governors of Maryland and Virginia issued draft recommendations on how the board should operate, the latest of several reports from regional groups that prescribe overhauls. The work group’s suggestions include establishing qualifications for board members, tracking attendance and instituting term limits.

The board has recently gone through substantial turnover. Fourteen of the 16 seats are filled, but eight of the board members joined this year. Two new board members from the District — D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and lobbyist Tom Bulger — were sworn in Thursday to replace D.C. Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), respectively.

During a committee meeting, officials said Metro still must complete 16 of 256 safety recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board; the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which monitors safety at Metro; and internal Metro audits. The items include installing rollback protection and exterior door releases on rail cars.

Mort Downey, a federal representative to the board, noted that Metro is working to improve its track components, sensors and circuits. Fixing those mechanisms and assuring that they operate in a “fail-safe” manner were part of the NTSB recommendations after the 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people. The NTSB cited malfunctioning track circuits in the crash.

“This is the kind of thing that keeps you up at night,” Downey said.

 
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