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.
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.
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