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Bus Rider Gets Farebox Lesson

At Metro headquarters this morning, I got a lesson in how to add fare to my SmarTrip card on a Metrobus farebox. This page shows you how to do it.

I needed the lesson, because in all my years of paying for fares with a SmarTrip card, I've never added to its value while standing at a bus farebox. I find it much easier to do that in rail stations, where I can walk up to a big vending machine away from the fare gates.

But I've been hearing from people who ride but buses exclusively, and wouldn't have any reason to go to a Metrorail station. Metro is planning to offer more places where people can add value on SmarTrip cards, but it's a big region. So most people would wind up using the add value feature on the buses' fareboxes.

This is getting to be a big deal, because on Jan. 4, riders are going to have another very strong incentive to pay with SmarTrip cards. That's when Metro will eliminate paper transfers. People who don't use SmarTrip or flash passes will wind up paying two full fares if they transfer. [Here's a link to Lena Sun's story in Friday's Post.]

Also, Metro is going to deliver on its long-standing promise of providing bus to rail transfers. But again, if you want that discount, which will be 50 cents, you'll need to use a SmarTrip card.

The cards cost $5 to buy, and then you can add up to $300 in value. With the new incentives, there will be many more people using the cards, and trying to add value as they board buses.

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein has been trying to ease my concerns about that. "Our customers are smart," she reminds me. They got used to it on Metrorail and they'll get used to it on Metrobus. It doesn't take any more time to add value than to feed $1.35 in cash into the farebox. There may be some confusion the first week, but people will quickly get used to it.

And in fact, as she and her Metro colleagues demonstrated to me this morning, it's pretty simple: Prese the Add Value button, touch the SmarTrip card to the pad, feed in the money you want to add, touch the card again to complete the transaction, then touch it one more time to pay the fare for this bus trip.

Plus, as Farbstein noted, you'll be a foot away from a bus driver, who can coach you through the steps.

Here are my lingering concerns:
-- Some drivers will be patient coaches. Others, not so much.
-- This isn't the same as for rail riders. If it were the same, rail riders would be stopping to add fare at the fare gates.
-- Bus riders probably will add enough fare value to get them through the week, and that will smooth many boardings. Let's hope they don't all pick the same time -- Monday morning, for example -- to add value for the week.
-- Yes, riders are smart. My Dad is smart, too, but he's 84 and has two hearing aids. If I were you, I wouldn't want him standing at the front of the boarding line to add value.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 6, 2008; 12:24 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Metro  
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Dr. G: I follow your blog pretty closely and I can't remember hearing about this 50 cent bus to rail discount before. When was this annouced? When does it take effect? Is there an official annoucement that provides all the details?

PS Thanks for all the great info.

Posted by: KilmarockCommuter | November 6, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

"Also, Metro is going to deliver on its long-standing promise of providing bus to rail transfers. But again, if you want that discount, which will be 50 cents, you'll need to use a SmarTrip card."

I hadn't heard about this before today either, but this is fantastic. Yay, metro doing something smart!

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | November 6, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for reading, Kilmarock, and I hope it continues to be useful to you.

Couple of things going on at the same time: Metro has been planning since last winter to eliminate the paper transfers in January 2009. Meanwhile, the transit authority is about to deliver on a four-year-old commitment provide discounted transfers from bus to rail. There was heavy discussion of that at this morning's Metro board committee meeting.

That 50 cent discount is will be a big win for riders transfering from buses to trains. It's not so good for riders who have been transfering from trains to buses. Their discount has been 90 cents. But to balance things out, it will become a 50 cent discount.

All this assumes you'll be using a SmarTrip card. That will be the only way to get the discount once the paper transfers disappear in January.

Riders will have lots of questions about this. I recommend everybody read Lena Sun's story in tomorrow's Post. There should be a graphic with it, too. Then in one or two weeks, we'll do a Commuter page feature answering as many questions as possible about the January changes. (If you folks have specific questions, please send them to me at

Posted by: rtthomson1 | November 6, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: TerpsGirl, I know people will love the new discount on bus to rail transfers. But I wonder how longtime users of the rail to bus transfers are going to feel about the "balanced transfer" policy that will drop their transfer benefit from 90 cents to 50 cents, so that all riders get the same discount.

It seems fair to me, but I know people don't like to see a benefit get reduced once they're used to receiving it.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | November 6, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Will we be able to add SmartBenefits on the bus as well? The above description is about how to add to ones SmarTrip with cash, but if that's the only way to add value on the bus it leaves out those of us who get a work benefit.

Posted by: erichzimm | November 7, 2008 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Another difference between the machines and the farebox is, you can get a receipt at the machines.

Also, many farebox displays are not back-lit, and what with winter fast approaching, it's going to be hard to see verify the added value. And as often as I get cheated out of my bus-to-bus transfer, I can't say I trust the fareboxes enough to be putting $20 in them. Especially with no receipt.

Posted by: yeah-right | November 7, 2008 8:43 AM | Report abuse

How will WMATA extend the bus-to-rail discount to Montgomery County RideOn passengers who use monthly bus passes to get to a Metrorail station?

And will SmartTrip ever be able to incorporate weekly or monthly bus or rail passes into their calculations?

Posted by: drwong | November 7, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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