Metro supremely buried the lede today in their press release announcing SmarTrip rule changes that will no longer allow SmarTrip balances to go negative.
First they butter you up with the nice news that SmarTrip cards will decrease in price from $5 to $2.50. Great, right? Except that somehow, in the universe Metro operates in, dropping the price of the cards requires them to implement new “technology” that prevents you from exiting the station if doing so would put your SmarTrip balance negative. Which is ridiculous- a significant part of the convenience value of SmarTrip cards is that you don’t have to fuss about your balance while you’re trying to get to work on time. This is particularly key now that we have peak-of-the-peak adding an additional level of complexity to fares.
But NOT TO FEAR, DC, Metro will also be upgrading the Exitfare machines with SmarTrip touch points so you can add additional fare before leaving the station. Except that’s not that helpful AT ALL because the Exitfare machines will remain cash-only.
So let’s review: Metro has recently made it more complicated to keep track of your actual fare at the time you enter the station by adding a peak-of-the-peak surcharge. They then strand SmarTrip users in the station if they happen to miscalculate and forget about that 20 cent charge instead of letting them make it up on their next SmarTrip refill. So not only are they asking SmarTrip users to radically change the habit that is probably what got them to use SmarTrip in the first place, they’re also asking them to make it a point to carry small amounts of cash with them at all times because they still won’t allow credit card SmarTrip refills inside the faregates. And this is supposed to be made aaaaaall better because the SmarTrip card itself, the one you probably already have in your wallet, now costs $2.50 less, which won’t help you at all.
So what can we conclude from this? You should probably just go back to paper farecards. Thanks for nothing, WMATA.
We’ve asked WMATA for comment, and will let you know if they get back to us.