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Posted at 2:17 PM ET, 02/ 9/2011

Domes aim to make SmarTrip faster

By Ann Scott Tyson

Metro is installing new equipment designed to improve SmarTrip card performance at fare gates and speed the movement of customers through the rail system.

The transit authority is putting plastic domes over each of the SmarTrip card readers on every fare gate, with about 1,400 of 1,700 installed so far. The installation is expected to be completed next week, Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said. The cost of the project is about $45,000, she said.

Metro implemented the most expansive fare increase in its history last summer, requiring its fare collection technology to handle more complex transactions. The changes meant it took longer for the circular SmarTrip targets to read the electronic fare cards and slowed down customers moving through the fare gates. The solution had been for customers to hold their cards over the targets for a beat longer than they were accustomed to.

The domes are intended to allow the antenna of the SmarTrip card reader to be better positioned to communicate with the card, Gates said. Specifically, it improves "the range at which the card will enter into communications with the target, which results in the unit's ability to read SmarTrip cards better and thus enable our customers to pass through the fare gates faster," she said.

Customer reaction to the devices was mixed, with some saying they helped, others saying they slowed down the card reading, and some not noticing the change.

"The others were flat; this one is much better," said Cheryl Johnson, as she exited from McPherson Square Station on the Orange Line Wednesday.

But Mark Elstein reacted differently. "It seemed it took a little longer than before, a couple of seconds," he said.

Have you noticed the change? Post a comment below about your experience.

By Ann Scott Tyson  | February 9, 2011; 2:17 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Maybe it helps with cards nearing the end of their lifecycle, but I have not noticed any difference.

Posted by: Tony-Tony-Tony | February 9, 2011 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I do think they are better but I also think that fare gates are becoming the next escalator crisis. Some evenings at Takoma station the gate area is packed because there is only one working exit faregate that accepts SmarTrip.

Posted by: sea1943 | February 9, 2011 3:39 PM | Report abuse

they need to install this at gallery place ASAP. it's a zoo after caps games

Posted by: hockeypunk | February 9, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I have a new card and definitely noticed the gates at WFC working faster than they were with the old sensors.

That said, they're still far below the speed they operated at before the "upgrade" this past summer. I used to be able to place my card on the reader and not break stride to go through the gate. With the new domes, I still have to pause a bit and wait for the gates to open, albeit not for the full second or so it was.

Posted by: pilampinto | February 9, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

If the gates, displays, and LEDs don't work, what's the point?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 9, 2011 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Ok...I'm thankful that things are just a tiny bit faster than they used to be but lets be realistic here. The root problem is that the fare schedule has become so complex that it can't be calculated in a timely manner. I don't think I need to comment much further on this.

I'm sympathetic to the need for revenue to operate the system but when it gets to the point where your equipment takes too long to figure out your fare it's a problem. Need we discuss those awful looking fare schedules that almost no one can figure out?

Posted by: Razor04 | February 9, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

They do need to be lightning fast. They are too slow now. Also, some sort of audible signal needs to be added to the reader to let the passenger know the card has been read. At the moment, if the gate is still open from the previous rider the only indicator that the card has been read is a light and display UNDER your card. Hard to see that. A quick beep will let you know to move on without having to look at all. To keep from being confused with a neighboring gate perhaps the sound level is low or beeper is focused directly to the rider or use three different frequencies so each gate sounds a little different.

Posted by: proof | February 9, 2011 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Running from the train to make my bus connection. But, frequently miss my bus connection while delayed trying to get through the fare gate. When is the next fare increase?

Posted by: jojo4 | February 10, 2011 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Why not make Metro a flat fare system? Wouldn't this help with crowd flow out of stations, costs to maintain exit trunstiles, costs of accounting for SmartTrips and budget projections?

Posted by: ecolumbiaheights | February 10, 2011 9:17 AM | Report abuse

I think they seem to work. At least, I percieve them as being faster at processing and opening the fare gate than before. Much less of a lag. I'm anticippating the day when I can just use my iPhone as my smart trip card instead. I wonder what upgrades they will need to do for that.

Posted by: bikeDC | February 10, 2011 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Are these the same design that were already in use on the side of many of the handicapped-accessible faregates? If so, I've never noticed much difference between the ones in the handicapped lanes and the regular ones. In fairness, I suppose the handicapped gates take a little longer to open given their design, so it's not necessarily as apparent whether the delay is due to the gate or the SmarTrip reader.

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 10, 2011 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Seems to be faster to me. And kudos to whoever ran this project at WMATA, I didn't know they could do anything system-wide for less than $50k...

Posted by: vtavgjoe | February 11, 2011 8:13 PM | Report abuse

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