SmarTrip is a plastic contact-less stored-value smart card used for payment within the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) system in Washington, D.C. Unlike traditional paper farecards, SmarTrip is designed to be permanent and reloadable, and it can be used in all Metrorail stations, all Metrobuses, and nearly all other local public transit systems in the Washington Metropolitan Area. SmarTrip is the primary way to pay for parking fees at Metro-operated lots.

Metrorail fares using SmarTrip cards are 25 cents lower per trip than when using the older Farecard paper cards. Metrorail began using SmarTrip cards in 1999, with use spreading later to Metrobus and Metro parking lots. The cards have been adopted by a number of other local transit systems, and there is reciprocity with the CharmCard system used in Baltimore. Although SmarTrip drew criticism due to the limited number of sales locations, in recent years distribution has expanded to local drug stores and supermarkets.

In addition to the basic designs, SmarTrip cards have commemorative designs as well as special-purpose designs, such as DC public school student photo-identification cards and cards for senior citizens entitled to discounted fares.

In October 2010, WMATA announced that it was working on a replacement system because the company that makes SmarTrip cards went out of business.

Overview

SmarTrip Express Lanes at Vienna station.

SmarTrip cards are 3.375 by 2.125 inches (85.7 mm × 54.0 mm), roughly the same size as a credit card or driver's license. The card is touched to a circular target on the top or side of each exit gate rather than inserted into a slot, affording some speed and convenience over the paper farecard. Additionally, it is usually not necessary to remove the card from a wallet or purse before touching the Smartrip target. In the Metrorail system, touching the card to the target will display the value remaining as the faregate opens, both when entering and exiting. On Metrobuses, the farebox will audibly beep and display the value. In all cases, the appropriate fare is deducted automatically, accounting for any applicable transfers and discounts.

In an effort to reduce fraud and waste, Metro announced in October 2008 that it would be eliminating paper bus transfers effective January 4, 2009. All riders who wished to take advantage of reduced-fare transfers were required to pay using SmarTrip.

The cards can be purchased at vending machines within many Metrorail stations, at Metro sales offices, selected retail stores, and online. The purchase price includes $5 for the card itself plus an initial fare value, which varies depending on where they are purchased: cards purchased at stations cost $10 ($5 for the card and $5 fare value), while those purchased online cost $30 ($5 for the card and $25 fare value). The cards can be reloaded using farecard vending machines or using cash at fareboxes onboard buses. Riders may also add value to their SmarTrip cards by trading in paper farecards. SmarTrip can store up to $300 in value.

As the Exitfare machines currently do not accept SmarTrip, riders with insufficient value to pay their fare are allowed to exit the system with a negative balance. This negative balance must, however, be paid before the card may be used again to enter the system. One may not exit a Metro parking facility nor ride a Ride On bus with a negative balance on the SmarTrip card; the card must contain sufficient value to pay the full fee in order to exit the Metro parking lot or board the Ride On bus. Because SmarTrip owners are allowed to exit the system with a negative balance, the Metro Board has rejected proposals to reduce the price of SmarTrip cards from $5 down to $2.50. Subsequently, the board agreed to a $2.50 price effective on August 29, 2011.

SmarTrip cards comply with the ISO/IEC 14443 Type B standard. A microchip contained within the card stores its value, as well as the rider's most recent entry and exit points, and a unique identifier. However, the unique identifier is not linked to a person's name or identity, unless one registers the card online. Registering SmarTrip cards allows riders to recover their remaining balance (minus the $5 replacement fee), should the card be lost, stolen, or damaged. The unique identifier also allows workers enrolled in the SmartBenefits program (which allows employers to subsidize employee transportation costs tax-free) to credit their monthly benefits to their cards. Currently, this is not done automatically; the user must transfer the benefit to the SmarTrip card manually at a Passes/Farecards vending machine in a Metrorail station. The SmartBenefits facility is also used for other occasions when value needs to be transferred to a SmarTrip card such as restoring the value of a lost/stolen card or when a transaction times out before the user has touched his card to the target the second time and the vendor retains the inserted cash.

The SmarTrip system was built and designed by Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of San Diego-based Cubic Corporation. As of October 2010 Cubic is reportedly no longer producing the cards and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board voted to find a replacement for the SmartTrip system before their estimated two year supply runs out. Hence, on December 30, 2010, WMATA issued a request for proposals for a replacement system. The new fare system is expected to use federal employee badges and certain smart phones in addition to the stored value cards.

History

SmarTrip was the first contact-less smart card for transit in the United States when WMATA began selling SmarTrip cards on May 18, 1999, and by 2004, 650,000 SmarTrip cards were in circulation. On November 12, 2002, the first SmarTrip readers were used on Metrobuses. In May 2004, SmarTrip readers were introduced at parking garage gates. In December 2010, 1,800,000 SmarTrip cards were in use. In February 2011, WMATA replaced the antennas on all Metrorail faregates to improve the speed and range of its the faregates' SmarTrip processing.

In May 2011, WMATA and the District Department of Transportation started a pilot project to give students in the DC Public Schools "DC One Cards" which are SmarTrip compatible. The new cards serve as both a student identification card and provide reduced Metro fares during student commuting hours. The cards are intended to address youth behavior problems in Metrorail stations.

Design

On the front of the standard SmarTrip card is a stylized picture of a Metrorail car and Metrobus in front of representations of the Washington Monument, United States Capitol, and stylized versions of classical architecture found in Washington, D.C. The Metro logo appears in the bottom left. A "Senior" SmarTrip is also available that automatically calculates applicable discounted fares for senior citizens (age 65+). The design is identical to the standard SmarTrip except that the card is printed in shades of bright yellow and brown, instead of blue and green. Since the Senior SmarTrip allows for discounted fares, the card may only be purchased in person with a valid ID from a Metro sales office or authorized vendor.

The first two promotional SmarTrip cards were issued in 2008 to commemorate the opening of the newly-built stadium of the Washington Nationals, Nationals Park. In November 2008, Metro announced a new SmarTrip card design commemorating the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Criticism

Farecard vending machines at Morgan Boulevard station, equipped with SmarTrip targets.

The primary criticism of the SmarTrip cards had been that they are only sold at suburban Metrorail stations, online, a few selected retailers, and Metro sales offices. However, in 2008, Metro reached an agreement with CVS/pharmacy to sell the cards at 187 DC-area locations in an effort to increase SmarTrip use. The SmarTrip cards are also sold at area grocery store chains.

A number of SmarTrip features that were supposed to be introduced in 2005 by SmarTrip's creator, Cubic Transportation Systems, have yet to be implemented. Initially, riders could only add value to a SmarTrip card at Metrorail stations or by using cash while boarding a Metrobus. In November 2008, after years of delays, WMATA announced that customers would have the ability to add funds to their SmarTrip cards online by September 2009, but that deadline was missed. In addition, the system did not have the ability to automatically add funds to SmarTrip accounts using a credit card until December 2009. On September 22, 2011, WMATA announced the launch of SmarTrip's Online Reload feature.

All trips made with a SmarTrip card, with the exception of bus transfers and (as of October 2010) weekly bus passes, are charged as individual one-way fares. WMATA offers discounted rail and bus passes to customers who make several trips in one day, or many trips in a seven-day period; however, riders must purchase the pass in the form of a paper farecard. This is in contrast to the Oyster card system on the London Underground, for example, where fares are automatically capped to ensure that customers never pay more than the cost of a one-day pass each day. WMATA originally announced that SmarTrip should have the ability to calculate discounted rail and bus passes by September 2009, but delayed implementation of this feature until fall 2010. In October 2010, WMATA began offering 7-day bus passes on SmarTrip cards, but has yet to implement rail passes on SmarTrip. With Metro soliciting a replacement system, development of additional features on the existing SmarTrip system is unclear.

There have been complaints when customers' cards cease to work as a result of placing the card in proximity to metal or physically damaging the card. In such cases Metro guarantees that the fund balance on the card will be transferred to a new card. However, customers have complained that WMATA has not been processing such balance transfers promptly.

Parking

In a controversial move, WMATA announced that as part of a new cashless parking payment system, SmarTrip would be the only way to pay for parking at Metro-operated garages and lots effective June 28, 2004, after reports of widespread theft by Metro's parking contractor, Penn Parking.

The decision prompted complaints that Metro was inconveniencing its many customers, including tourists and other infrequent users, who did not own a SmarTrip card. In April 2007, WMATA began testing the use of credit cards to pay for parking at six Metro stations, avoiding the need to pay for parking with SmarTrip cards at those stations. The sites are Anacostia on the Green Line, Shady Grove on the Red Line, Vienna and New Carrollton on the Orange Line, and Franconia-Springfield and Largo Town Center on the Blue Line. One exit lane at each station accepts credit card payments through a reader next to the existing SmarTrip card target. WMATA has since announced that it will make at least one credit card exit lane available at all Metro pay-on-exit parking facilities by summer 2011.

Participating systems

The Maryland Transit Administration has entered into a reciprocity agreement so that SmartTrip cards can be used on Maryland's state-operated public bus, subway and light-rail systems (including those in the Baltimore area). In turn, users of Baltimore's CharmCard are able to use CharmCard for payment all systems that use SmarTrip.

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