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AU selling SmarTrip on campus

By Robert Thomson

In talking to college students about transit in the D.C. area, this topic often comes up: How could we get a discount? (The other thing they want is to see more police officers on the trains and in the station areas.)

Metro doesn't offer a discount specifically for students at local colleges. That surprises some students, because in their lower school days in their hometowns, they did get discounts to use transit.

Metro does offer several types of student discounts, but only on these conditions: Students must reside in the District and attend a D.C. public, charter, parochial or private school; they must need to use Metrobus and Metrorail for travel to and from school and related educational activities; they must be certified as eligible by the District Department of Transportation.

Why the restrictions? Because the D.C. government subsidizes the program, which offers SmartStudent Passes, DC Student Farecards and DC Student Tokens to those eligible.

Nice as it would be for the thousands of college students who spend their money in the D.C. area, I don't see the local jurisdictions that subsidize Metro going for a college student subsidy, especially with the current state of the governments' revenue and the competing demands for it.

There is one way to get a price reduction of sorts: Don't use the paper Farecards on the trains and don't pay cash on the buses. Use the plastic SmarTrip card.

With this market in mind, the transit authority announced this week that SmarTrip cards are now being sold at the American University bookstore. By the end of the year, Metro says, SmarTrip users also will be able to add value to their cards at the campus bookstore.

Metrorail riders who use SmarTrip pay 25 cents less per trip than riders who use paper Farecards. Metrobus riders who use SmarTrip save 20 cents per trip over cash customers.

I hesitate to call the SmarTrip savings a "discount." The transit authority basically created a penalty for using cash or paper, because it wants to move people toward the cheaper and more efficient system of electronic payments. That's working out pretty well, according to Metro's latest statistics. About 78 percent of Metrorail riders and 68 percent of Metrobus riders use SmarTrip.

Other things for students to keep in mind: There's a 50-cent discount applied when riders transfer between bus and rail. (There aren't any paper transfers anymore.) And there's a two-hour free transfer time from bus to bus. You don't have to be traveling in the same direction to take advantage of the free transfer. It will work for a round trip within the two-hour window.

By Robert Thomson  | November 9, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail, SmarTrip  
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Of course the vast majority of people living here, including students, are going to get Smartrip cards anyway, so it's pretty hard to think of that as a discount.

I don't know if this is still the case, but as recently as 2008, Montgomery College students could ride the Ride-On buses for free by showing ID. This included both full-time and part-time students.

Posted by: DOEJN | November 9, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Giving discounts and other handouts to students is an important part of making sure they remain Democratics.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 9, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Giving discounts and other handouts to students is an important part of making sure they remain Democratics.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 9, 2010 4:32 PM

As if the vast majority of college students wouldn't be Democrats anyway...

Posted by: dfl1 | November 9, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

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