- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2012

In an effort to ease both customer travel and Metro’s operations, the transit agency is promoting the use of SmarTrip cards and installing new flat-screen monitors with updated travel information in 75 stations by the end of this fall.

“We are encouraging the use of SmarTrip for several reasons: it is faster, they are more convenient for customers, and it reduces Metro’s operational expenses,” said Metro Public Information Officer Philip Stewart.

Mr. Stewart said SmarTrip cards create less backup at the fare gates and reduce expenses because there are no moving parts inside fare gates that require maintenance and there is less paper to be replaced in vending machines.

Starting next month, customers who use paper farecards will pay $1 more per trip.

SmarTrip card vending machines will be installed in all stations by September, with ones at10 downtown stations operational by July 1. SmarTrip cards had previously only been available from dispensers at stations with parking and at CVS, Giant Food, Metro sales offices, commuter stores and online.

The rechargeable plastic farecards cost $5 to purchase. Starting Sept. 1, customers who register their SmarTrip cards online will receive a $3 refund to the card five days after first using them.

Other improvements are coming to SmarTrip cards. Customers will also be able to automatically add money to their cards using a credit card when the card balance gets to a predetermined amount. The maximum amount that can be transferred from a paper card to a SmarTrip card increased from $7 to $20. And starting next month, customers can load one-day rail passes and 28-day rail passes onto SmarTrip cards.

In conjunction with changes in SmarTrip options, Metro will add new features to stations. Instead of only scrolling information on the boards above the train tracks, Metro is installing digital flat-screens in the stations.

“They will allow us to display more detailed information for customers and allow platform displays to do more of what they were designed to do: showing predicted arrival times,” Mr. Stewart said.

The screens will provide information including service status, elevator outages, track work, and other information for customers.

To make stations brighter, Metro will add new bulbs and light fixturesat 14 stations by July 2013. The transit system is also working on plans to improve the station temperaturesand to better maintain escalators. All of these changes are included in Metro’s budget.

A previously approved fare hike will also go into effect on July 1. All Metrorail fares will increase by an average of 5 percent. The maximum peak fare will be $5.75 and maximum off-peak will be $3.50.

The off-peak base fare will increase by 10 cents to $1.70.

Metrobus charges will also rise by 10 cents to $1.60 using SmarTrip, or $1.80 using cash.