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Catoe comments on SmartBenefit changes

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe just finished his noontime chat on Metro's Web site, and it included this interesting comment about the planned changes in the SmartBenefits program. Catoe says he's heard plenty of rider questions about the changes, and "we need to rethink the changes that we are making."

Arlington, VA: Good afternoon - I have a question regarding the upcoming changes to SmartBenefits. Do we know yet what will happen to the current balances on our SmarTrip cards? For instance, if I have a $100 balance on the card beginning Jan 1, what "purse" will that money go into?Thank you!

Reply [from Catoe]: Hi Arlington. I see a few questions about SmartBenefits here in the queue. Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard a lot of comments from customers about this change in SmartBenefits. I've decided that we need to rethink the changes that we are making. At this point I do not have any new details to share. I hope to be able to provide more detail about the program in the coming weeks that will be able to clarify these sorts of questions. Rest assured, I have heard what people have to say and your comments will be taken into account as we develop the plan moving forward.

David Alpert, who writes the Greater Greater Washington blog, had an interesting take on the changes scheduled to take effect in January. Read his full posting here, but this is how he starts:
"Metro will put a band-aid on the problem of SmartBenefits going back to the employer at the end of the month by letting employers opt out of the new SmartBenefits arrangement and stick with the current system."

We've invited SmarTrip Director Cyndi Zieman to come on my chat at noon Monday to answer your questions about the changes in SmartBenefits. This link will allow you to submit a question or comment on SmartBenefits or any other transportation topic.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 6, 2009; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, SmarTrip, SmartBenefits  
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"I hope to be able to provide more detail about the program in the coming weeks that will be able to clarify these sorts of questions."
The coming weeks? Has he checked his calendar lately, its November 6th, employees need to act by December 1st or 10th to be ready by January 1st and HR offices need to implement and announce plans before that so employees know how to act.
We don't have a few weeks to wait Mr. Catoe, this should have been fully thought out and announced back in August or September.
How could Metro be stuck in its little world to not consider what happens to current balance, what about the thousands who ride metro who pay for it themselves pre-tax. How can they be this short-sighted? And how can they not think of the administrative burden to HR offices or to how early METRO requires that things be changed.
Does anyone at Metro have a clue? Clearly John Catoe doesn't.

Posted by: GlenBurnie | November 6, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: GlenBurnie, I think you've just about got it. This is quite a mess. And it's not like this was an emergency action. This IRS guidance goes back to 2006. Metro waits till two months before it plans to start this complicated new system before introducing it to the people who have to use it?

I think the problem is that nobody at Metro actually has to use the SmartBenefits system, so they didn't anticipate that the employers and the employees would kick up a fuss.

Plus, they seem to have been caught off guard when people who contribute their own pre-tax income to fund objected to having the unspent money returned to their employers. You couldn't see that one coming?

Posted by: Robert Thomson | November 6, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

This just further strengthens the argument that Metro Board members and Metro senior management be *required* to use all aspects of the Metro system as a condition of being in their respective positions.

Posted by: ceebee2 | November 6, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

One of the problems I find in this blog is that Mr Catoe is unaware of what his people at Metro are doing to come into compliance with the IRS directive. Remember that SmartCards have been in use long before this IRS directive came out. Most of the people who are complaining are forgetting that this directive was directed to employers not to Metro. This directive would require Metro to reprogram their SmartCards which are provided by a third party who also writes the code that handles SmartCards. While Metro is the face of SmartCard, behind the scenes it the vendor who is doing the actual work.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | November 6, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

>Board members and Metro senior
>management be *required* to use...


Most of all; Catoe and others there should be required to use AND PAY FOR their own alleged "smart card.."

When, not if, the card breaks [which they do frequently], you can not exchange it at Metro Center Sales. Metro, inc. Catoe himself, flat out refuses to explain why that is their new policy. They twist, they evade ("It's our policy") but justify it... not a word.

Meanwhile they muscle us into having to keep buying the %$$%^ things, or you have to pay double fares.

I bet Dan Tangherlin wouldn't treat us this.

Posted by: j_oper | November 6, 2009 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Once you purchase a card and it cracks, or what ever happen's to the card, Why can't we just report it, and get another.I know that Metro need's money, give the rider's of your system some sort of break,
We know you need money, So do we , and I am sure that Metro has more money than it's rider's.
Metro MAKE'S US, because we need the card for usage of the metro, and to be charge again and again for a new card, is being robbed without a gun, over and over again.
The consumer should be able to go on line to add to our card, with a credit card Visa, Master Charge.
We should be able to see our balance's on line, since the card is registered, this would enable us to keep account of our balance's without going to the metro station and/or bus.

Posted by: onesugar1 | November 7, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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