WMATA board meeting: Board member injured riding Metro, SmarTrip likely to change to credit-card system
- (Heather Farrell)
At today's Metro board meeting there was plenty of discussion about SmarTrip issues -- most of it focusing on how long SmarTrip will be around. Christopher Zimmerman (Va.) said plainly that SmarTrip "will not be available indefinitely," since the chip that SmarTrip relies on will no longer be produced.
Chairman Peter Benjamin (Md.) said Metro planned as best they could for this problem by buying up as many chips as they could, enough for about two years. Once those run out, it's looking increasingly likely that Metro will move to a system based on credit cards rather than stand-alone transit cards.
The details are a little fuzzy at this point, but Benjamin said when Metro refurbished their faregates they made sure the gates were compatible with the new smart chips going into credit cards. Presumably we'll someday be able to swipe credit cards at the gates much like we swipe SmarTrip cards today -- hopefully by the time we run out of SmarTrip cards.
"It's not like at the end of this supply we'll be in deep trouble," Benjamin said of their SmarTrip backstock. Benjamin did mention one upshot of a new system based on credit cards: You'd be able to apply your card fares to other transit systems using the same technology.
But board member Gordon Linton (Md.) raised an important issue: What about people who don't have credit cards? Linton said riders without a bank would be able to use prepaid debit and credit cards (though those types of cards aren't without their problems from a consumer's perspective).
"We don't want people thinking it's exclusively for people with banking relationships," he added. (This all raises another big question: Will card companies like Visa and MasterCard pretty much get a cut of all WMATA rides down the road?)
In other Metro news, the board adopted a safety resolution that established the Metro Board Safety and Security Committee and better defined the agency's oversight obligations. They've also got a new mission statement: "Metro operates and maintains a safe, reliable and effective transit system that enhances mobility, improves the quality of life, and stimulates economic development in the Washington metropolitan area." Learn it. Live it.
Interim general manager Richard Sarles said on Oct. 14 Metro will be releasing the report it commissioned on the system's elevator and escalator problems. He said their "standards" for elevators and escalators are in "good shape," but the elevators and escalators themselves are not.... They are going to need major overhauls and replacements. The agency also needs to correct what Sarles deemed "poor practices," like re-lubricating chains without cleaning them first.
In some unfortunate but related news, Benjamin mentioned that board member and Alexandria Mayor William Euille couldn't make it to the Metro meeting because he was injured badly at a Metro station -- Braddock Road, to be specific. It sounded like Euille was hurt either getting on or off a train and was in fact stuck in the door at one point, knocking his kneecap "out of place." Yikes. Let's hope for a speedy recovery.
On a positive note, Sarles said there's been a significant drop in rider complaints about Metro. This blogger might attribute that trend partly to the growing popularity of Twitter and other social media.