Metro Needs to Know Results of Card Giveaway
Last winter, amid concerns about the impact of bus fare increases and the eventual elimination of paper transfers, the transit authority decided to give 50,000 SmarTrip cards to government social service agencies, which would in turn hand them out to local social service groups that people in need.
As the Metro board of directors looked ahead last week to the Jan. 4 end of the paper transfers, it decided to give out another 50,000 cards to the agencies. The cards have a value of $5 each. [See second item in Lena Sun's transit notebook.]
The giveaway is a good idea. I joined many others in saying so last winter. But Metro needs to know that those cards are getting to the intended recipients. And so far, it doesn't.
The intended recipients include low-income people who take at least two buses to get to work. Many have paid the first fares with tokens, distributed to them as charitable gifts. They could show paper transfers to the drivers of the second or third buses. When the paper transfers go away, so does the second or third free ride, unless the traveler has a SmarTrip card.
So giving out $500,000 worth of free cards to ease this transition is a worthwhile use of public money. (By contrast, the federal financial bailout is providing vastly greater sums to stuff the Christmas stockings of un-needy bankers.)
But same Washington area taxpayers who will be asked to kick in more to finance our transit system have a right to know that the SmarTrip cards are getting to the right people. Otherwise, the do-good mission becomes a half-million-dollar government giveaway with no accountability.
The transit authority knows that the first 50,000 cards were distributed quickly to the government social service agencies. It also knows that the agencies still have thousands of them. The rest were handed out, but Metro doesn't know exactly who got them. That lack of clarity was apparent to the board when it voted last week to give away the new batch of 50,000.
Transit managers could not -- and should not -- put themselves in the business of deciding which individuals really need the free cards. It made sense to reach out to social service agencies to determine that. The agencies would bear a burden if they have failed to give out the cards, or give them out properly.
Still, in this public giveaway program, Metro is the giver-awayer. It's Metro money, and Metro needs to be accountable for it.
[We'll have an online discussion at 1 p.m. today to chat about any local transportation issue that's on your mind, whether it's what policy should govern a transportation stimulus package or what route you should take for the holidays. Use this link if you'd like to submit a question or comment in advance.]
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