Metro is planning to eliminate paper transfers in favor of SmarTrip. Okay, but…

December 2, 2008, 6:51 PM

As of January 4, 2009, Metro will no longer distribute or accept paper transfers of any kind. Take a look at this video from Metro:

Generally speaking, I think that this is a great idea. Switching everyone to SmarTrip for transfers saves money in purchasing, distributing, and disposing of paper transfer slips. Additionally, in my experience, I have seen many bus transfers discarded on the ground, in part because the paper bus-to-bus transfers are kept by the rider, and not surrendered upon use. So we have a reduction in littering as well. And finally, using SmarTrip is much greener than the paper transfers, since SmarTrip, unlike the paper transfers, uses no paper products.

However, there are two problems with Metro’s implementation of this change as I see it. I actually considered it important enough of a concern to write to Metro about it. Here’s what I wrote:

While I commend Metro’s elimination of paper transfers, and the addition of a bus-to-rail transfer, I have two concerns about this change.

First of all, as rail passes are currently not compatible with SmarTrip, this currently leaves rail pass users who do not also have a bus pass “out in the cold” when paying a bus fare. The paper rail-to-bus transfer is currently the only way to get the reduced bus fare when transferring to a bus, and will be lost when Metro eliminates paper transfers. What will Metro be doing to address this shortcoming, both in the short term and in the long term?

Secondly, with the increased use of SmarTrip due to its use becoming mandatory to receive bus transfer benefits, is Metro planning to increase the number of blue Passes/Farecards machines at stations? It appears to already be the case that there are not enough Passes/Farecards machines at stations currently, and the increased use of SmarTrip for bus fares will likely exacerbate this problem. For instance, I use Glenmont station regularly as part of my commute, and at Glenmont, there are currently eight farecard machines. Of these, three are the blue Passes/Farecards machines, and five are the regular farecard machines with no SmarTrip targets. I regularly see lines at the three Passes/Farecards machines, while I have never seen the regular farecard machines be busy in my experience. Does Metro have plans to replace these non-SmarTrip machines with Passes/Farecards machines?

I believe that Metro is planning to address the former by making the rail passes compatible with SmarTrip, but I have no word yet on when this will be. I would certainly welcome such a change, since I have managed to lose passes in the past. Regarding the concern about the number of machines, I’ve not heard anything out of Metro on it. To illustrate that concern, however, here’s the example I cited in my comment:

Farecard machines at Glenmont, May 19, 2008

As you can see, there are eight farecard machines, and only three are Passes/Farecards machines. And there are lines at those three, and only those three, every morning. The others? Nothing. Barely used. This photo, however, was taken during off-peak hours, thus no lines.

The lack of Passes/Farecards machines is also a concern to me because of what Metro did at the Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center stations. Recall that when these stations opened in 2004, all of the farecard machines were of the Passes/Farecards variety. I considered this a big step in the right direction, with all machines accepting debit and credit cards and SmarTrip. This is what both areas looked like in the first week after opening:

Farecard machines at Morgan Boulevard, December 21, 2004
Morgan Boulevard

Farecard machines at Largo Town Center, December 21, 2004
Largo Town Center

Unfortunately, Metro quickly ripped most of those out and replaced them with regular farecard vending machines, seen here at Largo in August 2006:

Farecard machines at Largo Town Center, August 1, 2006

Why Metro did that, I don’t know. It’s like a big leap backwards. Metro did something smart in putting all Passes/Farecards machines in, and then did something far less smart by removing most of them.

Personally, I consider the regular farecard machines pretty much obsolete, with the rare exception of a few with SmarTrip targets, but still no bank card capability. After all, I never use a paper farecard when I’m paying a straight fare, and when I need to reload my card, I do so using my debit card. So the regular machines, even the ones with the SmarTrip targets on it, are of no use to me, and to many others, I’m sure.

So now let’s see what Metro says to me when they answer my question. It sometimes takes a while for them to get back to me, but they always do.

Web site: Metro's most recent press release about the switch, including the introduction of a bus-to-rail transfer benefit at the same time. Currently, there is no bus-to-rail benefit, so this will actually make my commute less expensive come the first of the year.

Song: The theme to the "Explainer" podcast, which I listened to on the way home today.

Quote: Also, I found out what happened with the mismatched Breda rehab set (3193 and 3218). Metro said this: "Thank you for taking the time to write to us. The mates to these cars are still at the Contractor for heavy repairs. During a contracted rehab for all 2000 and 3000-series cars, problems were found with 3192 and 3219 which caused considerable delays. A decision was made to send their mating cars back, and we have married them and put them in to service until the mates are delivered. That should happen soon. Once accepted, they will be put back with the proper mating car." So there you go. It happened during rehab, and it's only temporary. The folks at, however, were surprised that Metro is planning on mating the mismatched cars back with their original mates rather than just putting 3192 and 3219 together as another mismatched set and leaving 3193 and 3218 alone. After all, the only real difference is the numbers, and Metro's put mismatched cars together before, turning 3190 and 3253 into 3290-3291...

Categories: WMATA