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Is your bus farebox working?

We know that broken Metrobus fareboxes cost WMATA significant revenue. But how big is the problem? If you ride the bus, please help by reporting whether your bus farebox is working on your next few trips.

Photo by velobry on Flickr.

Unfortunately, hard data on the rate of fareboxes being broken isn't easily available even to Metro. Knowing the scope of this problem could help with the tough budget WMATA and the local jurisdictions face this year.

You can help gauge the farebox rate by bookmarking this link on a data-enabled mobile device or type in When you get on a bus, just visit the page and fill in whether the farebox works or not.

If you do participate, please report both working and nonworking fareboxes. It won't help at all to overestimate the broken rate. The purpose of this isn't to collect a lot of complaints, but to get as accurate an estimate as possible.

Local jurisdictions are likely to push back at WMATA's request for $72.5 million in added jurisdictional contributions, which could put bus and rail headways, late-night service, the Yellow Line to Fort Totten, and more on the chopping block. If recovering some bus revenue could fill some of the budget hole, it'll make it a lot easier to pass another budget without service cuts.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Should we also count broken fareboxes on Circulator buses? I encounter those from time to time.

by Michael on Feb 1, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

How about including a time/date field so that people who aren't using a mobile device can enter this information at a later time?

by Dan on Feb 1, 2011 4:00 pm • linkreport

There's no way this count will be anywhere near accurate. Most people just won't remember to make a note if the fare box is working.

Also, how hard could it be for drivers to log broken fare boxes?

by dand on Feb 1, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

Not to be too picky....

1) Seem mostly on Circulator: fare box works for smarttrip, not for cash, cash customer get waved on

2) What do you do when the bus driver just lets someone w/o money ride?

3) Wouldn't a more useful count wold be to see how many people spot a broken farebox by day?

by charlie on Feb 1, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

Fairfax Connector 305: may have failed a time or two in the last four years, but can't remember it.

by Jasper on Feb 1, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

Does the thing take FFX Connectors?

by Jasper on Feb 1, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

What we should be doing is quantifying the number of people we see not paying...

The people that sneak through the back door, or worse, the people who simply walk pass the driver never intending to pay, the driver not saying a word.

Anectdotally, I am being generous when I say that 10% of the people who get on the bus after me fall into that catagory, probably closer to 20%.

Assuming 10%, and considering MetroBus's daily ridership is 400K (weekday), and the base fare, Metro is losing approx 50K a day, or 1 million a month this way.

Pretty shameless

by feely on Feb 1, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport


by Jerome on Feb 1, 2011 4:40 pm • linkreport


Matt Johnson asked you yesterday to refrain from posting comments in all capitals, which is considered the equivalent of shouting. We welcome your participation and your insights, but ask you to use primarily lowercase letters. Further all capital comments may be deleted. Thanks very much and we look forward to having you continue to comment here.

by David Alpert on Feb 1, 2011 4:43 pm • linkreport

My experience on the 90s buses is that the fareboxes are rarely "broken" in a traditional sense, but I'm game to collect data!

I pick up the 90s buses going westbound on U Street at 14th Street. It so happens that I'm generally getting on one of these buses at the 9:00 AM shift change that occurs at 14th & U. It appears that the driver leaving the bus "logs out" of the farebox, and that the driver taking over the bus needs to "log back in" before the farebox will be functional again. The "log in" analogy is the best one I have for what I've observed. Sometimes the incoming driver will have difficulty restarting the farebox and either leave it off, thus "waving on" riders (at least between 14th St. and Florida Ave., where I exit); "wave on" the riders boarding at 14th St., but get it working en route to 15th St.; or have a bus full of riders sit at 14th & U, with a queue standing on the sidewalk on U St., for anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes while attempting to get the box working, sometimes calling for assitance from another driver or supervisor, thus negating any commuting efficiency gained by the riders of the bus.

This particular anecdotal experience of mine seems like a catch-22: Either you keep the (already behind-schedule) 90s buses moving during rush hour, but forfeit at least one stop's worth of fares; or you collect every single fare at the cost of an efficient bus route. Perhaps a solution to this problem is to make it faster and easier for incoming bus drivers to "log in" to the fareboxes?

That said, I'm excited to see how this project turns out!

by David T on Feb 1, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

@Freely; I'm sympathetic to your numbers, might may be a bit high, but assuming they are true:

1. 12m/year is less than 10% of bus revenue
2. Given how low the cost recovery on buses is, and how large the subsidy is (390 million)
3. 12m a year is 2% of the WMATA bus budget (500m total)

by charlie on Feb 1, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

This is not only a problem of people not wanting to pay -- I regularly get waved on to the bus on both WMATA and RideOn buses for a broken box. Not the majority of the time, but it seems like at least once every week or two. My impression is that it's actually more common on my RideOn route (16) than on WMATA (J2/3/4), for what it's worth. And, for whate it's worth, I rarely see people skipping fares, at least during my regular morning/evening commute.

by Elizabeth | The Natural Capital on Feb 1, 2011 4:55 pm • linkreport

I've been in DC for the past 50 weeks and I ride the bus 6x per week. 300 trips. I recall a broken farebox only 3 times total and certainly less than 5 times. That is between 1% and 1.6% of the time. And half of that time I am paying the reduced rate $1 vs. $1.50 since I am exiting the Metro. So Metro has missed out somewhere between $3 and $7 from me over the past year. Doesn't seem significant.

by Mike D on Feb 1, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

twice in the last 2 weeks, S1/2/4 route.

by greent on Feb 1, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

Hi, David:

Do you have a citation for the following statement:

Unfortunately, hard data on the rate of fareboxes being broken isn't easily available even to Metro.

by Michael PlanItMetro on Feb 1, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport


I've never seen sneak in the back door nor have I ever seen anyone sneak past the driver, but then my bus is normally pretty empty, so it'd be hard to fake it.

What I do see very frequently is people saying their SmartCard doesn't work and they get waived on. Mine just worked fine, so I think it's more likely their SmartCard is just empty. Just sayin....

I occasionally see someone short on change, (clink, clink) and they get waived on. But the bus is right there and stopped so it's better to let them on and get some money than none.

by Mike D on Feb 1, 2011 5:10 pm • linkreport

Metro can't ask bus operators to report broken fareboxes?

by Michael Perkins on Feb 1, 2011 5:37 pm • linkreport

I've seen broken meters quite frequently on the S1-9 lines. While other commenters are correct that this won't be a scientifically-sound study, I still applaud the effort for someone working to quantify the number of operational and broken meters the various ridership encounter day to day to give us at least a ballpark figure of the issue.

Maybe after this trial run a stronger test could be developed? All and all, good work, and I will be logging what I see.

I would hesitate to include ways to report everyone who gets on without paying. I think that could be susceptible to people not realizing that some might have flashed a pass that wasn't seen or some other explanation.

by Bill on Feb 1, 2011 6:06 pm • linkreport

I saw a broken farebox maybe once every 2-3 weeks (42s and S buses). I just considered it a thanks from Metro for all the other screwed-up rides that I pay for.

I've also never seen anyone board through the back door. Not a one.

by Matvey on Feb 1, 2011 6:11 pm • linkreport

The X2 farebox was broken last week...

by Allison on Feb 1, 2011 6:14 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know off the top of their head, if the bus number (not the route number) is easily visible inside the bus?

I'll be more likely to report info as soon as I get on the bus and realize the farebox isnt working than at a later date, or when I get off.

by Ryan on Feb 1, 2011 6:55 pm • linkreport

Metro is perhaps the best regional system that exemplifies this quotation from Atul Gawande that really grabbed me recently.
Here then is our situation at the start of the 21st century: We have accumulated stupendous know-hows. We have put it in the hands of some of the most highly trained, highly skilled, and hardworking people in our society. Nonetheless, that know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields – from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.

That means we need a different strategy for overcoming failure…

From The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande MD

by Jazzy on Feb 1, 2011 7:12 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know off the top of their head, if the bus number (not the route number) is easily visible inside the bus?

I'll be more likely to report info as soon as I get on the bus and realize the farebox isnt working than at a later date, or when I get off.

by Ryan on Feb 1, 2011 6:55

Indeed it is. Centered, near the ceiling, to the right of the driver.

by Jazzy on Feb 1, 2011 7:14 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure how old Jerome is, but working with the elderly I came to see that often they write in all caps because it's easier for them to see what they're writing.

I've complained about the new, supposedly improved electronic everything with Metro, and recently wondered if the fareboxes were losers. They used to take pennies. No more paper transfers either. This is so clearly discriminatory toward the poor it's not funny. The newer fare boxes don't intake the money nearly as quickly as they used to.

by Jazzy on Feb 1, 2011 7:18 pm • linkreport

Wouldn't it make more sense to get the specific bus numbers and not the route numbers? These are usually marked above the front window inside and on the outside of the bus.

by Craig on Feb 1, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

I just this morning got on a Ride-On where the driver was waving people on.

by DCster on Feb 2, 2011 8:52 am • linkreport

To the commenters who want to make this a campaign against fare-cheaters, I think we need to keep this simple. Record whether or not the farebox works *for you* when you board. Limit the reporting to data of your direct experience. When you see people being "waved by" they might be pass riders. It's not necessarily evidence that something nefarious is going on.

by Paul on Feb 2, 2011 9:29 am • linkreport

I would like to know which bus routes people are seeing rampant examples of people just entering through the back door, or people just getting on the bus and walking past the farebox w/o a pass (not driver waving people on). I have never seen an example of the latter. Every time I have seen the former happen (someone enters through back door) the driver has noticed that person and not let the bus continue until they either get off or come to the front to pay.

by MLD on Feb 2, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

I've had the reverse happen to me -- buses *overcharging* me on the card. I had one metrobus deduct $4.50 (that's right, four dollars, fifty cents) from my card despite my having a valid pass active on the card. This was a regular local metrobus, not an express bus nor an Airport fare bus (though it must have been set to be). And two times before that, I got hit with $1.50 even though again, I had a pass.

by Wes on Feb 22, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

How long is this project going to continue, I have been recording my bus trips and wanted to know if I should continue.

Maybe this can be continually publicized or mentioned, dont think ive heard anything about it for a long time.

by Ryan S. on Apr 25, 2011 1:32 am • linkreport

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