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Metro outlines upcoming SmarTrip card changes

The IRS has granted Metro the one-year extension it was seeking for that complex new version of the SmartBenefits program. The schedule originally called for the changes to occur Jan. 1. After users of the transit benefits and the employers who have to implement the changes expressed their utter confusion with what was required of them, Metro asked IRS for the delay.

That SmartBenefits system will not change until January 2011, Metro now says.

Meanwhile, Metro is planning for some upgrades in the SmarTrip electronic fare card system. The first thing that's happening is an upgrade to the electronics.

These are a few of the key changes that could affect how you use your card:
-- First of all, you can now add value to your SmarTrip card at 223 retail locations. That's especially good for bus riders who don't normally get near Metrorail stations. They can go to one of these retail locations and add value, rather than having to do it at a bus fare box.
-- Late spring: That's when Metro will start to phase in a self-service Web site feature in which you can add value to the card -- or add transit passes to the card -- without going to a vending machine or a bus fare box. One key in the preparations is to make sure that the transactions are safe for the users.
-- Summer: That's when Metro will be phasing in an auto load system allowing riders to automatically add value or renew passes at fare gates, fare boxes or parking facilities.This would be done using transit benefits, credit cards or debit cards.
-- Metro is working on incorporating the passes offered by regional transit agencies into this system. One issue that has to be resolved is how the revenue collected would be distributed among the regional agencies.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 17, 2009; 10:46 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, SmarTrip, SmartBenefits  
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"One key in the preparations is to make sure that the transactions are safe for the users."

Are you kidding me?

Posted by: movingalongplz | December 17, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

This story fails to mention the primary reason why users complained like the new system was initially described, it would take any unused money set aside from users' pre-tax accounts EACH MONTH and send it back to the users' employers...meaning that if the user got sick and failed to use the metro, or even if she miscalulated the number of days she'd be going to work (different each month)and didn't travel as much as expected, the money would be lost. The net effect, I suspect, would be that users would simply abandon using pre-tax accounts, or would set the accounts to subtract a much lower amount per month than they generally would avoid losing money. Who thought this one up?

Posted by: splotkin | December 17, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

the problem with this new system is that it effectively turns the pre-tax commute $ plan into a FlexSpending medical plan. with the flex spending, you have to guesstimate how much you will use during the year and then use it or lose it. But at least that option allows you 12 months to spend the money. Here you will be forced to accurately predict EVERY MONTH with the threat of "use it or lose it". that's doubly awful.

Posted by: DreamOutLoud | December 17, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

One upgrade to the SmarTrip card that should have been made a long time ago is to enable riders to make a free out-of-system "SmarTrip transfer." New York has this option at certain stops that are close together but not connected, and the MetroCard is far less sophisticated than the SmarTrip card. Essentially what you do is you exit the system at a certain stop and then you re-enter at another particular stop within a certain amount of time without charge. (For example, if you're on the F, at the Lexington Avenue/63 Street stop you can use your MetroCard to change to the N/R/W/4/5/6 at the Lexington Avenue/59 Street stop by exiting the system and re-entering the other stop, as long as it's been less than two hours since you originally swiped your MetroCard when you entered the system the first time.)

The prime example of where this would be useful in DC is to allow users to change from the Orange and Blue Lines at Farragut West to the Red Line at Farragut North. You'd exit from the one, walk across Farragut Square, and re-enter the system without additional charge. It seems like it shouldn't be all that difficult to add this sort of functionality to the SmarTrip card, and it would reduce crowding at Metro Center, too.

Posted by: 1995hoo | December 17, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

The comment by 1995hoo is exactly right. People coming from Virginia would be able to get to Northwest DC more quickly if their SmarTrip cards allowed them to transfer for free from Farragut West to Farragut North.

Please make sure appropriate people at WMATA see the comment by 1995hoo.

Posted by: pkalina | December 20, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

"One key in the preparations is to make sure that the transactions are safe for the users."

Are you kidding me?

Posted by: movingalongplz | December 17, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, there's only a few hundred thousand sites out there able to accept secure credit card transactions...clearly not enough expertise, WMATA'll need to start from square one.

Posted by: HowdyDCU | December 21, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

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