Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Metro Roundup

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

There’s some changes coming to SmartBenefits in the new year, and you might want know about them now for your long term planning health.

Metro tells us that starting January 1, 2011, there will be two changes to some benefit programs mandated by the government. The first change is a limit on how much money a person can get for transit. The new limit is $120, a full $110 less than it is this year.

The agency says that of about 285,000 people that receive a transit benefit, about 90,000 will be affected by this. This change comes about as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires at the end of the year.
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The Daily Feed

SmarTrip Info Coming to a Website Near You

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

Metro’s board gave preliminary approval to a change in the system’s privacy policy yesterday. The change would allow Metro to give you information about your SmarTrip card online.

Amazingly, Metro did not anticipate giving users access to their data online when the privacy policy was enacted in 2005. The full board will vote to change that later this month, and riders should expect access to their information by July.

Metro says that having SmarTrip information available online “will save Metro approximately $6,000 per year of staff time and copying costs incurred in responding to requests for paper records.” That’s right, paper records are currently the only way to get access to this data.

The press release does not fill me with confidence that the process will be easy or sane, though. Metro will require a raft of information as well as a “digital signature” before they’ll let you access that data.

The Daily Feed

Metro Now Costs 10 Cents More

Photo courtesy of
‘NO SMARTRIP -6480′
courtesy of ‘Joe Tresh’

If you use a SmarTrip card, you probably didn’t even notice it on your commute this morning, but your trip was just a bit more expensive than it was last week.  As of yesterday, fares on Metrorail and Metrobus jumped 10 cents to help cover a huge budget gap.  Just a friendly reminder to bring along some extra change for your commute starting this week, and if you get transit benefits through your employer it might be time to increase your monthly benefits.

The Daily Feed, WMATA, WTF?!

Yeah, Thanks, We Knew Already

Photo courtesy of
‘”You Are Too Stupid”‘
courtesy of ‘swilkes’

In case you were wondering, WMATA is officially delaying the January SmartBenefits program until 2011. Oh, wait, you already knew that? Really? When did you find out…wait, last week, you say? When GM John Catoe, Jr. announced it at a small budget forum? Or was it from GGW, us, WJLA, the Examiner, or WaPo?

Oh, right. How silly of me. In Metro’s world, it’s not “official” until they put it out as a press release. Well, wait no longer. You’ll note that despite what Catoe and others said last week, this release only says that Metro has delayed the change and the program “will remain as is until further notice.” Which, in Metro’s little world, could be as early as oh, say, tomorrow. So despite what some officials said last week, the program may well not be on hold for all that long – or it could be promised in February. Nice way to help non-federal businesses figure out what the hell to do, that.

You know, I was waiting for this release with great anticipation, ever since we found out in such a half-assed, roundabout manner last week but had no official press announcement on something so huge that affects many commuters in the area. I had high expectations this press release would be a masterpiece of media savvy, an epic piece of public relations literature that would be a shining example to companies worldwide on how to execute the perfect informational piece. With lots of detail, charts and quotes. Because they were taking a long time to craft such a simple message.

Clearly, I had the bar set too high. WMATA? Your communications policies continue to be EPIC FAIL.

The Daily Feed

New SmarTrip reload locations

Photo courtesy of
‘NO SMARTRIP -6480′
courtesy of ‘Joe Tresh’

We still don’t have online loading but WMATA has announced the addition of 42 more SmarTrip purchase & reload locations. They have a listing of all the locations on their website but continue not to map the locations.

Well, I grabbed the addresses and slapped them into an online tool that plotted the locations, so here you go: The list of WMATA partner locations where you can buy a SmarTrip card and add value to it, as of November 6th, 2009. You can check to see where your nearest location is visually. Perhaps in the future WMATA will commit to a map & finder tool.

The Daily Feed, WMATA, WTF?!

Burying the lead disappointment

Photo courtesy of
‘NO SMARTRIP -6480′
courtesy of ‘Joe Tresh’

WMATA’s press release about SmartBenefits talks a little about how some changes will be made to the SmarTrip behavior to comply with new IRS rules but leaves the really interesting thing for last. A sizable percentage of people in the area might get transit subsidies from their employers but here’s the real news for all SmarTrip users: no passes or online refilling of cards till Fall 2010.

WMATA blames this delay on the complexity of implementing these changes to meet IRA rules, but it’s hard to give this much credence given how horribly overdue they are in implementing this feature. IRS transit mandates might be why they couldn’t fit it into 2009, but what’s the reason they didn’t have it in 2004 or 2005?

The Daily Feed, WMATA

Reload Your SmarTrip Card at CVS or Giant

Photo courtesy of
‘First subway ride’
courtesy of ‘ktylerconk (Tennessee)’

Great news from Metro today: you can now load value onto your SmarTrip card at over 100  CVS and Giant Food stores.  This is the latest step in making it easier to use and reload SmarTrip cards since Metro eliminated paper transfers back in January.  You can load value using cash or credit cards on portable SmarTrip devices at these stores, a welcome improvement over the cash-only reloading capabilities of Metrobuses.

The list of stores with SmarTrip reloading machines can be found here; the list includes 106 CVS locations and eight Giant Food locations.  Participating retailers will have a decal or sign on the door announcing the SmarTrip capability.

Thanks Metro, for making it a bit easier to avoid the swarms of tourists at the farecard machines in Metro stations this summer.

And oddly enough, here’s another way that CVS is making it a little bit easier to get around: apparently the CVS Samaritan Van has been rescuing stranded motorists for thirty years!  Who knew CVS cared so much about transportation?  Thanks David for the link.

Essential DC, Talkin' Transit, The Features, WMATA

Talkin’ Transit: SmarTrip Getting Smarter!

Photo courtesy of
‘Metro SmarTrip Card’ courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for the day when I’d be able to reload my SmarTrip card somewhere other than a Metro station.  For those of us who ride buses regularly, it’s really frustrating to have to go to a Metro station to add value to a card when you’re just trying to take the bus somewhere.  But there’s great news coming from Metro: later this year, we’ll be able to add value to SmarTrip cards online!

In an effort to improve customer service, Metro will create a self-service SmarTrip website, which will allow us to load value onto our SmarTrip cards electronically.  There will also be a fantastic ‘autoload’ feature that will automatically reload the card when the balance drops below a designated amount. The new website will include a way to see recent transaction data for your SmarTrip card (currently only available through a formal Public Access to Record Policy request, or by stealing a glance at the screen when the station manager scans your card in the kiosk).

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