New SmarTrip rules to make faregate delays even worse

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

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.

Tiffany Baxendell Bridge is an Internet enthusiast and an incurable smartass. When not heckling the neighborhood political scene on Twitter, she can be found goofing off with her ukulele, Bollywood dancing, or obsessing about cult TV. She is That Woman With the Baby In the Bar.

Tiffany lives in Brookland with her husband Tom, son Charlie, and two high-maintenance cats. Read why Tiffany loves DC.

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58 thoughts on “New SmarTrip rules to make faregate delays even worse

  1. Pingback: A Modest (Metro) Proposal | Metro-Venture

  2. @Marty Metro, you are an idiot. You cannot “run a defecit.” You can’t use the service again until you pay.

    And yes, actually, almost everywhere on earth lets you do this, for a month. It’s called a credit card.

    But since Metro does not let you automatically link your account to your credit card, like almost every other modern subscription-service on earth, they effectively don’t even let you use that.

  3. Pingback: Vox Populi » SmarTrip no longer allowing negative balances

  4. Riders trapped in the station will form savage gangs roaming the tunnels. These gangs will be ruthlessly hunted down and processed into food for the poor.

  5. Here in NYC we have the automatic online top-up for our pay-per-ride MetroCards (EasyPay Xpress)… and I hope if WMATA does implement this feature, they do it better than our MTA.

    The automatic refill threshold is $20, and the automatic refill/top-up amount is $45. Both are far too high. By no stretch of the imagination can a $20 card be considered “empty,” which is what they’re effectively calling it by setting the threshold there.

    By considering my $20 card “empty” and triggering an automatic $45 refill, they are forcing me to keep between $20 and $65 tied up in a card at all times–the first $20 of which is always inaccessible to me, making a $20 card effectively unusable unless I either add $45 to turn it into a $65 card OR catch it before it runs down to $20 and add a lower amount. Either way, that first $20 is never usable on its own. It’s always considered as an “empty” card when the balance reaches $20.

    This is ludicrous. Even if I’m short on funds, I don’t have the option of simply using up the $20 in fares I already have on my MetroCard. And if I ever want access to that $20–which is basically functioning as a deposit, even though no credit was extended–all I can do is cancel my account and request a refund, which takes several weeks. I know, because I have done it. Scrambling to top up a card that already held several round-trips, just to avoid an unnecessarily high automatic refill, was becoming ridiculous.

    While I understand how desirable it is for the MTA to hold on to a $20 interest-free loan from every customer (that’s what it is, if the customer cannot ever use the first $20 in fares they’ve paid for), this is not the best way of administering what could be a highly successful program. They need to significantly lower both the threshold andtop-up amount, or, preferably, allow customers to set their own threshold and top-up amounts, according to their own needs and usage patterns.

    Yes, I’ve suggested to them. Twice. They don’t give a crap. Why should they? They’re holding everyone’s 20 bucks hostage and earning interest on it… and no one even seems to notice. I just hope WMATA doesn’t decide to do something this stupid and counterproductive.

  6. After all of the back and forth, I’m still just sort of fascinated by the *headline* of this piece . . . are there really people facing noticeable “faregate delays” now? When something isn’t a problem to begin with, how can it be made “worse”?

    For the overwhelming majority of SmarTrip users, going down to a negative balance is something that happens *maybe* once per month, and in most cases probably much less frequently than that. It’s a minor annoyance at best, but We Love DC has made it clear over the years that there’s no such thing as a minor annoyance when it comes to Metro.

  7. Seriously, Nate? You’ve never experienced the stacking that regularly occurs at Foggy Bottom when half the faregates aren’t working and the station manager is trying to shepher the crowd through the couple that are? Or for that matter, the delays on the rest of the Orange Line after ge gives up and starts waving people through whose cards then don’t work when they try to leave the station? Or at Pentagon, where there just aren’t sufficient faregates to serve the transit center? Or at Smithsonian every time there’s a mall event? Or at Metro Center pretty much always?

    For people who prefer not to have tons of money tied up in an interest free loan to Metro because they live paycheck to paycheck, going negative on SmarTrip is more like a weekly occurrence. I remember those days well.

  8. WMATA is now not even doing that much for customers. I purchased a new SmarTrip today, August 30th. New prices of $2.50 were supposed to go into effect yesterday. Not so fast! When I got to the counter, the price of the SmarTrip card was still $5. I pointed out that it was advertised to be $2.50, and the woman at the counter said it was “on the news” this weekend that this decrease would be delayed “til the fall.”

    They are not endearing themselves to anybody.