D.C. students to get electronic transit passes for Metro use

May 3, 2011

Metro and the District Department of Transportation plan to launch a pilot program this month that will replace paper student transit passes with electronic identification cards, similar to the SmarTrip fare card.

The DC One Card contains a chip with ID information that can be used to track usage or restrict students from using the subsidized passes during non-school hours.

But DOT spokesman John Lisle said the agency does not intend to use the cards for those purposes — unless directed to do so by Metro officials.

About 500 students at the School Without Walls in Northwest Washington will be the first to use the DC One Card as a transit pass. Officials said the second phase of the pilot will include some summer school students. If the program is successful, it will expand to include more D.C. middle and high school students in the fall.

The idea of using the cards to restrict transit access was floated in February during a Metro board meeting as a possible way of curtailing crime committed by young people. Serious crime on the Metro hit a five-year high in 2010, and Metro Transit Police have said that the growth is partially attributable to snatch-and-grab robberies committed by youth.

There have also been concerns about fights among young people who use the system. The District already has a curfew law in place for people younger than 17 that varies by time of year and day of the week.

Tommy Wells, who is both a Metro board member and a D.C. council member, said the electronic cards will allow officials to ensure that the cards are used for their intended purpose: helping students get to and from school. He said he’s open to the possibility of using them to ensure students don’t act out or cause trouble while using the system.

“Using these cards is not a right, it’s a privilege,” he said. “If a student abuses the privilege by being unruly [while riding Metro], the card can be shut down so the student doesn’t have the option of a subsidized fare.”

Current student transit passes allow students to travel on Metro’s trains and buses for about half the cost of a regular fare. The District pays the difference.

Aaron Overman, deputy associate director at the District Department of Transportation, said the cards will make it easier for students to replace lost transit passes. Currently, if students lose their transit pass, they also lose whatever money is on the card. Overman added that the switch to electronic cards will allow the District to reduce paperwork and will likely save money in the future.

A current version of the DC One Card already can be used by adults and children to access some city services and facilities.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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