Metro on Thursday launched a long-awaited system that allows riders to add money to their electronic payment cards online.
Using a major credit card, customers can visit Metro’s Web site and log on to their SmarTrip account. They can then add value to their registered fare cards. The transit authority said it recently ran a successful pilot of the new feature with 150,000 customers.
The payment option for customers comes as SmarTrip has experienced technical troubles, with some riders complaining that the cards stop working or don’t work well — or at all — when adding passes for bus trips.
Metro is seeking an outside contractor to create an “open payment system” that would eventually replace SmarTrip. Riders would be able to use their bank or credit cards to enter fare gates, but that is years away.
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles announced the online payment option Thursday at a board of directors meeting.
“Customers can now go online rather than getting in line,” he said in a prepared statement.
After value has been added online, customers have to touch their SmarTrip card to a fare gate, vending machine or bus farebox to complete the transaction. Metro customers should allow up to one business day, the agency said, for the value to be transferred to a SmarTrip card when using a fare gate or vending machine and up to three business days at a bus farebox.
That’s not the only change riders are facing. Station names at some stops are also being reconsidered, as Metro redesigns the rail system’s iconic map to show the new line to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County and other service changes.
Over the years, station names have become long and cumbersome, board members and riders have said. The board voted this summer to adopt a station naming policy that adopts a recognizable primary name and a secondary addition.
The transit agency said it sent out an e-mail survey Thursday to 10,000 random customers asking for feedback on proposed name changes. Riders will have up to 10 days to respond, and executives plan to make a presentation to the board in October.
The proposed new names include:
●Foggy Bottom-GWU/Kennedy Center.
●New York Ave.-NoMa/Gallaudet University.
●Smithsonian/The National Mall.
●Forest Glen-Holy Cross Hospital.
●King St.-Old Town.
The Metro board also decided to hold five public hearings in the region over the coming weeks to get feedback from riders on changes it plans to make to bus routes.
The proposed changes are meant to increase how often some buses serve busy corridors, give customers a more realistic time of when a bus will arrive based on road conditions and traffic, and extend some bus routes and eliminate others.
Metro is proposing the following bus route changes:
●Extend the following routes: limited stop 28X service to the Mark Center; the M8 and M9 routes to Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue SE; and the 25A to Park Fairfax so residents can get to area shopping centers.
The bus changes would not go into effect before mid-2012.
Metro’s board also spent two hours in a strategic planning session with an outside consultant, reviewing how the region is expected to grow and how the transit agency will deal with an increasing population.
Planners for Metro said they would like to run more eight-car trains during rush hour within the next 10 years, but it will require costly upgrades to power substations, expansion of rail yards and the purchase of more rail cars.
“If we don’t get longer trains we’re going to see serious crowding,” said Tom Harrington, director of Metro’s Office of Long Range Planning.
At Gallery Place station, one of the busiest in the system, Metro is evaluating expanding some of the narrow platforms and possibly adding walkways to make it easier for customers to get in and out of the station, which is usually packed with commuters during rush hour.