Friday, August 06, 2010

The Smart Card gets a little less smart

Metro has SmarTrip cards. You swipe them over an area on the turn styles and that opens the gates. It’s very much like an EasyPass for tolls. What is great about them is you could actually swipe the card and continue walking as the gates opened and you were in the subway system. Paper farecards took longer. And when there are a lot of people trying to get in or out of the system it made a difference of how quickly you got through the gates. It was easy to rush for a train that had just pulled into a station as opposed to using a paper fare card.

Lately I’ve noticed the card has gotten a little more finicky. You have to make sure it is placed directly on the sensor. Sometimes you can still do the quick swipe but sometimes a message comes up saying to swipe the card again. I first noticed it a couple of weeks ago.

The speculation on the reason for this is the new peak of the peak fares that Metro implemented. This is the second phase of the fare increases from Metro. The peak of the peak is an extra 20 cent charge if you ride at the peak time of rider ship. It was supposed to go into effect for both the AM and PM rush. But only the PM rush is in effect right now. From the Metro site:

Due to unforeseen system programming limitations of technology in implementing the new peak-of-the-peak pricing, Metro will implement peak-of-the-peak pricing in two steps. The first step will take effect on Monday, August 2, with a 20-cent fee applied to afternoon trips taken between 4:30 and 6 p.m. weekdays. The second step is expected to occur by the end of August, with a 20-cent fee applied to morning trips taken between 7:30 and 9 a.m. weekdays.

The idea behind this is to of course raise more money to fill in the budget deficit. But also to try and get people to travel after these peak times. It assumes that many people can be flexible with their working schedules. I think this is a stretch to say the least. Also didn’t someone look into the feasibility of doing this before proposing this idea. Why at this late stage in the game does Metro announce the reason only the PM increase in happening is because of “unforeseen system programming limitations of technology.” I guess you really can’t be surprised at that after all it is Metro.

The bottom line is the SmarTrip card is still a great convenience, but, one of the things in its favor the quick swipe to get in and out of the Metro system, is not as smart as it once was.

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