Posts about Autoload
By this July, Metro rail and bus riders should be able to load money onto their SmarTrip cards online and set up a credit card to automatically reload when the balance gets low.
However, rail passes on SmarTrip are going to take a little longer. WMATA doesn't have as firm a timeline for that upgrade, but anticipates finishing this by the end of the year. They've prioritized bus passes because they are more popular and are a more efficient improvement than rail passes.
WMATA provided this information in response to DC Council oversight questions. According to the responses, SmarTrip is at the limit of complexity it can handle. They will study the flexible passes proposal once SmarTrip is replaced by an open payments system, where the fare is calculated on the server end and the card is more of an identification token rather than a stored value card.
In the near term, their focus will be smaller improvements like developing the "virtual tunnel" (planned for September), adding value online, and autoload.
The new electronic SmarTrip bus passes are currently about half as popular as their paper equivalents. Metro reported that they are selling about 14,000 electronic bus passes per week, compared to 32,000 per week for the paper passes back in December before they were eliminated.
SmarTrip card usage has increased recently due to cash surcharges, free bus transfers and the availability of passes. On rail, 82% of trips are taken with SmarTrip, and on bus it has risen to 78%.
WMATA was expecting rail SmarTrip usage to grow to 92% after the cash surchage was added, but notes that paper farecards are still used by tourists and occasional riders.
In the questions, Tommy Wells and his staff asked about adding SmarTrip readers to the back door of buses to decrease the amount of time buses spend stopped waiting for passengers to board. WMATA stated that the challenge of installing additional readers and then policing their use meant that a rear SmarTrip machine may not the best solution.
But, the agency pointed out other ways the boarding process could be faster, such as encouraging passengers to have their cards ready when boarding, to encourage loading fare value at a retail store or rail station, and creating bus stop waiting areas that allow customers to pay to enter the waiting area, and then board without paying on the actual vehicle.
These improvements to SmarTrip are being eagerly awaited by many riders, after being repeatedly delayed when other issues pushed them down the priority list. An informal survey on Twitter showed that customers are particularly excited about being able to add value online.
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