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Track your SmarTrip--and habits--online

Metro today announced an enhanced Web site on which customers can check the balance of their SmarTrip card, monitor any SmartBenefits activity through their employers, and review their usage over time, including on their iPhones and Blackberrys. Users can also report cards online as stolen, lost, cracked or malfunctioning, though they can't add to their balance from a credit card. The immediate reaction from normally-skeptical Metro riders seemed positive for the long-anticipated move.

In April, Metro's board approved changes to its privacy policy to allow card owners to monitor activity on their cards--pieces of plastic that hold up to $300 in fares at a time, with many employers, including the federal government, reloading the cards with money each month.

It's clear why privacy considerations were important: When I registered my own card with the site and logged on, it became apparent that the timestamped information linked to my SmarTrip was enough to reconstruct nearly all my movements around the region, since I rely almost entirely on Metrobus and Metrorail to get around, and even illustrate habits and routines.

I could see exactly how hard I was hit, based on my own usage, by the recent round of fare hikes.

I could see that gate-to-gate, my morning commute from Union Station to Farragut North typically registered a tight 12 minutes; but for stretches at a time, whether due to an extended rut in service or a summer influx of tourists, it was closer to 20. I had always felt that the night trip home took longer, because it was often after the rush hour when trains run more infrequently, but now I have hard data showing that is not the case: Either trains travel quicker because of less onloading and offloading and less congestion when they do arrive during those 8p.m. trips, or the trek back home just feels longer at the end of the daily grind.

I could see how my patterns changed when I changed employers (a new station and longer hours); observed how the difference in Metro benefit plans provided by my prior and current employers added up; and even was struck by how habitual I was when it comes to things like errands (without fail, a weekly early-Saturday-afternoon trip on the X2 bus to the grocery store).

I also noticed that I'd usually unknowingly gotten a free ride home from those grocery trips, since my shopping trip was short enough that the return leg registered as a transfer.

This is the kind of data, in fact, that transit systems sometimes provide to police to investigate the whereabouts of suspects in major crimes. (The data visible online to registered cardholders goes back only to the beginning of this year.)

The site comes on the tail of another commendable use of technology by Metro, the release of more real-time information about the system that independent Web programmers can use to make useful apps for riders. It lacks one significant and obvious feature, the ability to deposit money on your card online rather than standing at a kiosk, but Metro says it's in the works.

--Luke Rosiak

By Luke Rosiak  | July 19, 2010; 4:11 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Online tools, SmarTrip  
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The fact that you cannot add to the balance online is archaic

Posted by: melissa2809 | July 19, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Every time I call the SmarTrip customer service phone number, I get a busy signal!

Posted by: subwayguy | July 20, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

I'm getting the same thing when I call SmarTrip customer service. I sent a message to them because I'm trying to finish my account.

I would love to see how long my trips took and how much they have been costing me.

Posted by: harddrive747 | July 20, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Interesting...... this demonstrations that Metro knows enough about you to refund your fare automatically when they fail to get you to your destination in a timely manner.

Of course they'll never bother to implement it.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 20, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

They need to work on a more durable card, I've gone thru at least one to two a year because of the wear.

Posted by: lulu202 | July 20, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

lulu202, what are you doing, chewing on the card? I've had my card for 6 years and it still works fine. You realize you don't have to take it out of your wallet to use it right? That protects it quite well. Such a pet peeve of mine when people stop at the gate to fish out their smart trip card.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | July 20, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Getting through to the SmarTrip Customer Service Center (888-762-7874) is currently a nightmare. On the first few tries it didn't answer (nor give a busy signal) and now when I transfer to an agent, it disconnects me every time. I can understand long wait times today but this is pretty sloppy.

Posted by: jmrzx | July 20, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

It is sort of busy, and it did disconnect me a few times, but I was eventually able to get through. I believe that adding to your card online is in the next phase of their roll-out.

Posted by: aaronw1 | July 20, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

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