Large machines bearing red and green lights and 1984-newspeak words such as "Addfare" and "Farecard" are creeping into the city's subway, getting ready to grab money from riders.
They are the heart of the new fare-collecting system that will go into effect when Metro opens 12 more miles of subway, scheduled for July 1. Then, for the first time, subway fares will be based on the length of the trip. In the 13 months of subway operation to date, a flat fare has been collected in old bus fare boxes watched over by a Metro employee.
The Metro employee will still be there when the computers take over --but only at the rate of one per station instead of the one per fare box used now.
What that means is that we must learn to live with the machine instead of a sentient being.
Meet Farecard. He stands about 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide and is the first machine one will encounter upon entering the new subway station. There is a slot in Farecard's left front that will accept $1 or $5 bills, and another slot that takes nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars.
Insert money. Farecard lights up and tells you how much you have inserted. If you put in $5, and want $5 worth of fares, push the button stating, "Push for Farecard." if you want $3 worth of fares and $2 back, you can push a button to make that happen, then "Push for Farecard." You'll get a card and change.
The card, a magnetically encoded, wallet-size thing, is then carried over to the gate. Insert the card in one end of the gate. The gate swallows it, notes that the magnetic tape shows there is enough money for the minimum ride, and returns it -- in less than a second.
The gate opens, the rider enters the subway.
"The region's politicians haven't made the final decision on subway fares. The recommended formula calls for a basic fare of 40 cents, which buys the rider three miles anytime the subway is running. There would be a rush-hour charge of 7.5 cents for each additional mile, an off-peak charge of 3.75 cents for each additional mile. Elderly and handicapped people will get a specially encoded discount card.)
At the end of the ride, the rider approaches the exit gate and inserts his card. Remember, the entrance gate checked only to see if the rider had enough money for the minimum distance.
If the card contains enough money, the machine will return the card with the balance it contains printed on its face. If the card contains exactly the fare due, and no more, the machine will eat the card.
If there is a shortage, the gate will not open, words will appear directing the rider to Addfare, and the card will be returned. Addfare, another large machine, stands on the wall inside the gate.
Insert card in Addfare. Addfare lights up and says, in effect, "You owe 60 cents." Deposit 60 cents. Addfare returns card. If you, deposit $1, Adddare returns card and 40 cents. Carry card back to gate. Insert card. Gate opens, and eats card.