- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

All was not well yesterday on the first day of the new cashless parking system at Metro stations.

Commuters had to use a SmarTrip card to exit all Metro-operated garages and lots. The cash-strapped transit agency booted the contractor that provided cashiers, after an audit revealed that some cashiers were stealing up to $1 million a year. Metro is unsure of the exact figure.

New machines selling SmarTrip cards were installed in stations. But many customers trying to use credit cards in those machines found they were unable to do so. Metro said the volume of sales were too much.

“The machines weren’t able to process every transaction,” said James Gallagher, Metro’s deputy general director. “They would time out because there were too many people using the system.”

He warned that there could be similar problems today.

The machines required a $10 bill to operate, vending a SmarTrip card with a $5 fee and $5 good for subway fare or parking. Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said anyone who could not use a credit card and did not have a $10 bill could buy a traditional paper Farecard for the exact amount of the parking and hand it to a garage attendant. The Farecard machines were making change and accepting credit cards.

Parkers also had to begin paying on exit from 9 a.m. until closing at most stations — a change from the old policy where payment was collected only when exiting between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.

The changes came on the first weekday, in which higher fares were in effect. Sunday’s fare increase was the second in as many years for Metro.

“It’s slightly ridiculous that there’s the mandatory $5 and they increased base fares,” said commuter Ashley Westerman at the Vienna, Va., station.

But accountant Darrin Memmer said he understood the logic behind the new policies.

“It’s a little bit of a hit, but I understand to run the Metro system, it requires big revenue,” said Mr. Memmer, who rides Metro daily.

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