May 22, 2014

D.C. Metro to retrofit vending machines to dispense smartcards

A Metro rider purchases a fare card at the Foggy Bottom Metrorail station. Courtesy WMATA, Larry Levine.

A Metro rider purchases a fare card at the Foggy Bottom Metrorail station. Courtesy WMATA, Larry Levine.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) plans to retrofit more than 500 fare vending machines at stations throughout the system to dispense SmarTrip cards, rather than paper fare cards.

The contract for the ticket vending machines has not yet been awarded, according to Metro.

Metro is steadily transitioning away from the use of 1970s-era magnetic paper farecard technology. The machinery used to process paper fare cards is outmoded and includes an intricate system of rollers, printers, sensors, and wiring that is difficult and time-consuming to maintain when compared to the contactless SmarTrip technology.

Today, more than 90% of all Metrorail riders already use a SmarTrip card to pay for their trip.

According to Metro, SmarTrip is faster, safer and more convenient than using a paper farecard in several ways, including:

  • Lower cost. On Metrorail, each trip taken with a SmarTrip card costs $1 less than those taken with a paper farecard.
  • Added security. SmarTrip cards can be registered online. If the card is lost or stolen, the unused value can be transferred to a new card.
  • More durability. Moisture or demagnitization can easily destroy a paper farecard, resulting in a loss of value.
  • Transfer benefits. SmarTrip is also the only way to take advantage of cost-saving transfer options between Metrobus and Metrorail.
  • Auto Reload. Gives users the convenience of having value automatically loaded to their cards anytime their balance drops below $10.

Even after all upgrades are completed, paper fare cards will continue to be accepted for a period of time to allow riders ample time to deplete their value.

Eliminating paper fare cards has several benefits for riders and for Metro, including faster entry/exit for riders; more reliable fare gates; and the reduction of paper waste.

Customers can expect to start seeing upgraded fare vending machines in Metrorail stations late next year.

Metro is currently advancing a project that will eventually allow riders to pay for Metro travel using contactless debit or credit cards, mobile phones or federal ID cards.

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