MAYBE PEOPLE WHO play video games at home get their away-game kicks punching at balky ticket machines in Metro stations, but by all other standards the Farecard system is a multi-million-dollar turkey. Although Metro board member Francis B. Francois has complained about the machines' unreliability, most Metro board members have preferred to pray that things would get better, since the Farecard system has one special feature when functioning: it can handle, and therefore preserve, Metro's insanely complicated, infinitely tiered fare schedule. Both the system and the schedule should be scrapped.
Richard S. Page, Metro's general manager, has long and openly suspected that the Farecard system is a flop, and he has just submitted a report that should lead the board to the same conclusion. But Mr. Page, noting that the matter is a "political issue," has politely dumped it in the laps of the politicians who sit on the board.
The findings of Mr. Page are worth mulling. He notes that Metro could equip its entire 101-mile system with token-operated turnstiles for less money than it will cost to buy the Farecard equipment for the last 40 miles. Besides, he says, eliminating the Farecards would mean an annual maintenance savings of about $13 million when the whole subway network is completed. If Farecards are to stay, Mr. Page estimates that it will take about $8 million just to make them work acceptably. eThis is on top of $51.7 million spent already on the first 60 miles.
The short and ill-considered resistance to turnstiles hinges on the argument that the fare system is too complicated -- politically and mathematically -- to be altered for a simple token operation. District officials also are wary of a flat-fare system because their residents could wind up on the short end of short rides. But that could be adjusted with a simple two-zone system: one token for boarding anywhere in the District and two or three in the suburbs, much the way tolls are collected for the bridges and tunnels in and out of Manhattan.
There is no reason to accept the old excuse that the math and money formulas are all too difficult. That's what the board members said when flash passes were first urged on them. Somebody finally figured out a deal that works for buses as well as subways -- and it has been quite a hit with riders. Surely the board can come up with the magic numbers for an even bigger hit.