Maryland's CharmCard for transit extends SmarTrip's reach

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The SmarTrip card is getting some competition.

The Maryland Transit Administration is debuting its own electronic fare card, the CharmCard, on Tuesday.

The rechargeable card can be used on the state's public bus, subway and light-rail systems. It can also be used to ride Metro's trains and buses and regional bus systems, including ART, CUE, DASH, D.C. Circulator, Fairfax Connector, PRTC OmniRide, Ride On and TheBus.

In turn, SmarTrip cards can be used wherever a CharmCard is accepted, officials said.

"We are now going to be an integrated regional transit system," said Terry Owens, a spokesman for the Maryland Transit Administration. "They are essentially the same card and will make commuting easier."

However, the CharmCard cannot be used on MARC trains or commuter bus systems.

The state spent $82 million to develop the card and purchase new fare boxes, gates and ticket vending machines. Developing the card was a decade-long process during which the MTA worked closely with Metro.

The new system expands SmarTrip's reach, since it will now be accepted on the state of Maryland's public bus, subway and light rail systems.

"I think it's most beneficial for riders depending on where they are traveling to or from," said Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates. "They can use one fare card to pay for fares on multiple transit systems."

The SmarTrip card, introduced in 1999, is used by about 75 percent of District rail commuters and 60 percent of bus riders, Gates said.

The CharmCard can be purchased online, at the MTA transit store in Baltimore and at select CVS and Giant Food stores. The card costs $2.50 and can be loaded with a maximum value of $200. At some locations, including online, the cost is $10, but customers receive $7.50 in fare value.

The card also is available as a rechargeable 30-day pass for $64, a seven-day pass for $16.50 and a one-day for $3.50. The passes, however, can be used only on the MTA system, not to ride Metrorail or Metrobus.

Metro's board of directors agreed in June to cut the price of SmarTrip cards from $5 to $2.50 to encourage more riders to use them, but that plan has been delayed. Metro officials said last week that a SmarTrip card costs the agency $3.40.

Metro staffers also have expressed concern that cutting the price could encourage some riders to buy a card for one-time use, exit the rail system with a negative balance and discard the cards. Officials estimate Metro could lose $1 million a month because of people "gaming the system."

Gates said Metro is developing an open-fare payment system in which riders could use credit or debit cards or a smartphone to ride the rail or bus systems.

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