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Breakfast links: Long time coming

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
Autoload for all: WMATA has now made SmarTrip autoloading available to everyone. It will charge riders' credit or debit cards once the balance gets to $20, a threshold riders cannot change. (Examiner)

Good parking minimums: New regulations, which took 5 years to write, would require all DC apartment buildings of more than 8 units to provide some secure bicycle parking, either covered or indoors. (WBJ)

Ecodistrict starting already?: The GSA wants to redevelop 5 buildings around L'Enfant Plaza, including the huge Forrestal Building. (Post) ... The recent Soutwest Ecodistrict plan made recommendations for how to redevelop this area over time.

Unmarked crosswalks get noticed: Too few news stories about collisions between pedestrians and cars acknowledge the existence of unmarked crosswalks. This omission can shape perceptions of who is at fault. (Stop and Move, Ben Ross)

Subdue the subsidy: WMATA board member Alvin Nichols says we have to get away from using the word "subsidy" to talk about investments in transit. (Kogod Now)

Bike sharing for all, but not in Denver: Denver's B-cycle bike sharing only serves dense neighborhoods, stirring criticism that it doesn't serve poor or minority areas. (Denver Post) ... DC made the opposite choice, factoring equity into location decisions.

Development in the developing world: While the move to cities is usually seen as an environmental positive in the US, increased urbanization in developing countries carries many environmental risks, though good planning can mitigate them. (Time)

And...: Several area bus routes will see changes, including some new express routes. (Examiner) ... Bombardier will run MARC's Camden and Brunswick Lines. (Examiner) ... The iconic and environmentally-hazardous Alexandria power plant has closed. (Post)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  


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does anybody know if the smartrip autoload feature will work on MTA stuff in baltimore, or is it just WMATA stuff?

by burgersub on Oct 1, 2012 9:02 am • linkreport

Shouldn't the market decide whether apartments offer secure bike parking?

by ah on Oct 1, 2012 9:07 am • linkreport

Shouldn't the market decide whether apartments offer secure bike parking?

Only if there was no publicly subsidized free onstreet bike parking. That sai, it would be reasonable to limit the regulation only to dense areas of the city with high utilization of street/sidewalk bike parking.

by Falls Church on Oct 1, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

Why does publicly subsidized on-street parking make a difference? If anything, it seems that would cut the other way, making it appropriate to require apartments to require auto parking in order to reduce the overuse of the subsidized resource (which is basically the objection made by neighbors to any apartment project with "not enough" parking).

by ah on Oct 1, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport

once the balance gets to $20

Why $20? That's at least a few rides. That's just padding WMATA's financial buffer.

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport


They have required a certain number of auto spots for quite some time. There are times when the market isn't always 100% efficient, and as such I have no problem with this. We are talking 1 room, 8x14 or whatever. For the 10 unit apartment complexes and such, you are talking a closet basically.

by Kyle-w on Oct 1, 2012 9:53 am • linkreport

The market should decide which apartments have safe wiring and fire alarms too.

by aaa on Oct 1, 2012 9:53 am • linkreport

Shouldn't the market decide

The problem is that the market is not free. The market is constrained by short-sighted competition leading to apartment builders to offer as little amenities as they can get away with. If you left it to the free market, apartment buildings would offer no parking for residents. They can do so because there is so much free parking available. Other investments in safety for instance are influenced by the fact that many renters can not properly evaluate the effects of those safety measures in their evaluation of their future home. The result of this behavior has negative consequences: unsustainable on-street parking and buildings burning down regularly.

To create an orderly society, it is perfectly ok for the government to level the playing field for everyone by demanding certain minimum requirements.

The question then becomes what those minimum requirements are.

The argument against minimum parking requirements, often presented here, is not so much an argument against minimum requirements in themselves, as against the height of the minimum.

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2012 10:03 am • linkreport


Since CharmCard uses WMATA's website for registration, etc. I believe the autoreload feature would work as well. There really is no difference between the cards, other than branding.

by Adam L on Oct 1, 2012 10:07 am • linkreport

So WMATA lied again to the public about SMARTRIP cards. Now we have larceny if you use auto re-load. Absurd. The taxpayers pay for this badly run system they should be able to set their own amounts. I wish GGW would not always side with WMATA and their corruption and actually stand up for the people who pay for the system...not those who have nearly run it into the ground (no pun intended).

by Pelham1861 on Oct 1, 2012 10:15 am • linkreport

@burgersub-Yes it will work to reload CharmCard as well as SmarTrip. And both cards work on MTA services in Baltimore.

@Jasper-I imagine they chose the $20 threshold because of the merchant "swipe fees" that WMATA has to pay to the credit card companies. Allowing a lower threshold would mean more of the money collected bleeding off to the financial institution(s) that process WMATA credit card transactions.

by Jimmy on Oct 1, 2012 10:15 am • linkreport

@ Jimmy:-I imagine they chose the $20 threshold because of the merchant "swipe fees" that WMATA has to pay to the credit card companies.

Hmmmm. There may be a misunderstanding here. If you mean to say that the minimum 'recharge' is $20 to deal with swipe fees, then that makes sense (well, not really, but that's a different discussion). I.e. the minimum recharge is $20. However, the way I read it was that your metroaccess gets recharged whenever it's balance goes under $20. There is no swipe fee reason to keep that line at $20, in stead of $0.

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport


I agree. I don't see the reason to put it at $20. I assume it is so that there is time for the long-haul commutters to make sure the card gets reloaded quickly enough. IE $20 balance can get used in 2 days.

However, for someone like me, I use Metro a couple of times a month. I really don't want $50 sitting on the card. However, this isn't such a big deal.


Larceny... Seriously?

by Kyle-w on Oct 1, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

I assume that the $20 is to make sure that the reload doesn't have to happen between the fare gate and the parking garage.

by mikeh on Oct 1, 2012 11:16 am • linkreport

$20 is a rather hefty minimum recharge threshold. If the concept is to have a buffer sufficient for 1? day of use in case of a credit card charge getting denied, that is a lot of trips. What is the minimum auto-reload charge amount?

For comparison, EZ-Pass VA (ex-Smart Tag) sets the minimum balance according to usage pattern with a $10 floor. It does hit customers with a $35 minimum replenishment charge so most of the time the stored balance is well above $20. But driving up the east coast, one can rack up a lot in toll charges in one non-stop trip.

Have BART or the T set up similar auto-reload features for their smart cards?

by AlanF on Oct 1, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

The $20 requirement also exists (I think without controversy) on EZ-Pass.

Basically, it's a buffer so that the agency can take the time to correct any billing authorization problems *before* your balance hits zero. If your credit card is declined, you'll have some time to correct it before your SmarTrip stops working.

It also helps minimize transaction fees for the agency.

There's also a technical limitation: The auto-reload isn't instantaneous. The SmarTrip system is decentralized, meaning that the fareboxes and faregates do not maintain a constant connection back to the central computer.

It can take up to 24-48 hours for each gate to receive the command to credit your card the next time it's tapped. That $20 buffer is there to ensure that you don't go negative during that 1-2 day period. Apparently, WMATA doesn't think you'll manage to spend more than $20 in a single day.

Finally, I'm pretty sure that WMATA is legally prohibited from touching the pool of SmarTrip balances. AFAIK, that money is required to sit untouched in a bank account until it's actually been used. I don't think the $20 buffer actually increases Metro's cash position. (Correct me if I'm wrong here)

That all said, $20 does seem a bit high, considering that the cards already cost $5. I'd set the threshold at $10 or $15 if it were up to me.

by andrew on Oct 1, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

I think andrew is correct, the $20 threshold for reloading is so that you can't draw down to zero before it is reloaded. Even if the threshold were $15 you can get through that in a day if you have a max fare trip both ways plus parking.

I assume auto-reload works the same way as smartbenefits - the information has to go from the central computer to the faregates and fare boxes so the balance on the card can be updated. So especially for bus fareboxes an evening may have to pass so the bus can come into the garage and its farebox can get the updated information wirelessly. Remember that under normal circumstances the information about the balance is stored on your card, and the farebox reads and updates your card to reflect a new value. It's not like a credit card where it communicates with a central server.

Also it is correct that the agency cannot actually use money from fare sales until those fares are used by customers - the money sits in a separate account. After a certain period (at least a year, may be more) the agency can use funds that customers have not spent.

by MLD on Oct 1, 2012 12:46 pm • linkreport

I was so pleased to see WMATA issue a press-release that also included how the bus passes will work with the auto-reload. I was very skeptical (see Friday's breakfast comments) about the auto-reload in that it would wait until the pass expired before re-loading and thus leave people in a lurch since it takes two (business) days to activate after ordering. But according to the press release:

"For customers who use a 7-Day Bus or Rail Pass, Auto Reload will add a new pass when three days remain on the pass."

Hopefully having the extra day built-in ensures that people won't lose any coverage. Key word there is: hopefully.

by Shipsa01 on Oct 1, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

re: unmarked crosswalks. I want to add a fourth option to the linked-to article:

3) "A mother and child were hit by a pickup truck today. They were in an unmarked crosswalk"
Reaction: The state is delinquent in providing proper signage and paint to a place where pedestrians obviously need better protection. Especially at a location where there are two lanes of traffic in each direction.

by MDE on Oct 1, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

@ andrew:that money is required to sit untouched in a bank account until it's actually been used.

My problem with that is that it sits in WMATA's bank, not mine. They get to add it to their balance. I don't. There is a real problem with more and more pre-paid cards for all kinds of services. As a customer you have to pre-pay and you can never get your money back. Also, from the company's perspective you turn from a potential customer into a potential liability. So in stead of working to get your money, companies have an incentive to not have you spend your money - they have your money anyway.

It can take up to 24-48 hours for each gate to receive the command to credit your card the next time it's tapped.

Another example of old-skool technology. Come on. my credit card will be charged instantaneously. This is the age of the internet. Fix it. I have no patience for crap like this.

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

Personally, I feel like having $20 in the account is a small price to have the convenience of it auto-reloading, but I always preferred having a moderate balance to worrying about it being low.

by David Alpert on Oct 1, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport


It has nothing to do with "old-skool" technology and everything to do with the way that transit boarding has to work. Imagine if every time somebody touched their card at a farebox or faregate it took as long to process as a credit card transaction does. Even a difference between 350 milliseconds (smartrip speed) and a second would make boarding much slower. Transit cards process much more instantaneously than your credit card does, specifically because the information is stored on the card and not on a server.

Remember when Metro changed to peak of the peak and people started complaining about the delay in the faregates opening? ( The delay was something like 100 milliseconds. People notice that small of a change.

Some transit agencies are even wary of new tech like using contactless credit cards on transit because they have a delay of about 500 milliseconds.

by MLD on Oct 1, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

I think the better question to ask than "why $20" is "why can't I set the threshold myself?"

Sure, for people who park and ride from Vienna, $20 is easy to explain. But for someone going from Woodley Park to Metro Center, that's almost a week's worth of commuting.

by ah on Oct 1, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

WMATA is still feeling the burn from the old -- well, ongoing -- cut up your paper cards and exchange them scam. This has created a fear going forward of customer fraud.

The difference is the ease of use. It is much harder to go buy a smartrip, associate a fake credit card number on it, use it for $20 in one day -- or rather $30, since the card cost $10, then dump it to repeat. The older trick of taking a $100 farecard, cutting it into four parts, then exchanging each one for a new $100 card is much much easier and far more lucrative. I have no doubt some people will try to game the new system. It will be smaller than those gaming it now.

by charlie on Oct 1, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

On the $20 Smart Card auto-load minimum, I did not fully consider the costs of parking, taking the Metro at peak rates from the outermost station, the delay in updating the account for bus passengers, and says throwing in the cost of taking rail or bus for a short lunch trip in the middle. To keep from getting over-drawn for 1 busy day of use, $20 is a reasonable minimum number.

@ah, if they let people set their own minimum, many commuters will set it too low for their usage pattern. It just means that if someone wants to use the auto-load feature, that at least $20 will be tied up in the account. If that is a problem, it is pretty easy to re-load the card $5 or $10 at a time going through the Metro stations. Yes, the lines at the ticket machines can be a hassle, but maybe if enough tourists and less frequent Metro users buy Smart Cards, there will be fewer lines at the ticket machines. Umm, ok, maybe fewer lines is way too optimistic given the complexity of the DC Metro pricing system.

by AlanF on Oct 1, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

@ AlanF

"Yes, the lines at the ticket machines can be a hassle, but maybe if enough tourists and less frequent Metro users buy Smart Cards, there will be fewer lines at the ticket machines. Umm, ok, maybe fewer lines is way too optimistic given the complexity of the DC Metro pricing system."

Why would a tourist or less frequent user buy a smart cards thats beyond stupid.

1 I'm wasting money on a card that I will possibly never use again $5

2 I could end up with a card with money left on it (any amount even $.05 is better in my pocket than on a card)

3 Why bother at all if there is another option

4 If WMATA starts giving refunds like other systems do than scratch 1, 2 and 3

I would start at $5 for the simple fact that all users dont take the rail some use the bus and you can not take money off the card. If the card was able to be used at other businesses such as the octopus card than I would be more accepting until then hell no.

by kk on Oct 1, 2012 6:30 pm • linkreport

Why does publicly subsidized on-street parking make a difference?

Because free public bike parking will be overused to the extent there is no place to park your bike (see georgetown). Minimum bike parking reqts help to ensure that all the bike parking isn't taken up by people living in buildings that were too cheap to provide their own parking for bikes.

That said, the problem of insufficient free bike parking isn't really a widespread problem at this point but we should also be looking to the future since these buildings will be around for a long time.

by Falls Church on Oct 1, 2012 8:20 pm • linkreport

Shouldn't the market decide whether apartments offer secure bike parking?

The problem with subsidies is that it causes people to over-consume. But, that's only a problem if we don't want people to over-consume. This is not such a case. There is no amount of bike use that suddenly becomes excessive or a problem. This is similar to education or fitness. We subsidize these things because we want people to consume more. In fact, there is no limit it how much we want people to consume.

So no, the market shouldn't decide because we want to incentivize people to bike more.

by David C on Oct 1, 2012 10:10 pm • linkreport

Why should we make apartments provide bike parking? Because we want to encourage more bicycling! Bicycling has tons of positive benefits for population health. As for why we might be against minimums for car parking and for minimums for bike parking, again bicycling has more positive benefits than auto use and providing bicycle parking is a much lower burden than providing equivalent car parking.

by MLD on Oct 2, 2012 8:40 am • linkreport

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