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Finances & Money

Washington Metro to offer bus-to-rail discounts in January 2009

If you live in the D.C. area and take public transit (as I do to work), you probably already know that if you use your SmartTrip card to board a bus within 2-3 hours (not sure which) of riding the Metro train, you get a 90-cent discount on your bus fare. That means you pay 35 cents to transfer from rail-to-bus instead of the normal $1.25. Not too shabby. I use this discount myself when I don’t feel like walking home.

But riders were always angry that they didn’t get a similar bus-to-rail discount. Well, that’s all changing come this January 4, 2009. Riders who take any area bus (e.g. MetroBus, RideOn, etc.) and then ride the MetroRail train within 3 hours will get 50 cents off their subway ride, but only if they use their SmartTrip card. If you’re paying cash on the bus or using a paper ticket for the train, you’re out of luck.

But there are some downsides, according to this Washington Post article (may require registration to read):

  • Rail-to-bus transfer discounts (for SmartTrip users) will go down from 90 cents to 50 cents. That means instead of paying 35 cents for the bus after riding the train, you’ll pay 75 cents. Since this is the most likely one I would use, BOOOOOOOO!
  • Only SmartTrip riders will get a bus-to-bus FREE transfer because…
  • Metro is discontinuing paper transfer tickets. If you don’t use SmartTrip, you’ll pay $1.25 for the bus and the full fare for the train, and another $1.25 for any subsequent bus ride.

So Metro is really pushing those SmartTrip cards. But honestly, the convenience of my SmartTrip is great, and since I registered my card, if I lose it, I get all my money back. Remember when I lost my SmartTrip card?

The card costs $5 (non-refundable), which for me is a minor inconvenience. For less-fortunate riders, that $5 means a meal or two, but as long as they don’t lose it, it’s a one-time fee. However, I see one big problem with switching to the SmartTrip…

Illegal Immigrants and SmartTrip

If you’re trying to stay under the radar by paying cash-only, then getting a SmartTrip card is problematic. While you can still replenish the card with cash, if you want to benefit from the replacement policy, you need to register it. While there are probably ways around this problem for illegal immigrants, or just paranoid riders, I expect a number of users will refrain from reporting a lost or stolen card and end up losing a wad of cash with no recourse.

Another worry (even with myself) is that if you register your card, there is a record of your riding patterns which could worry the Big Brother conspiracy theorists.

The alternative? Pay cash only and spend a wad more on each transfer. I think I’ll keep using my SmartTrip and use those riding records as an alibi, if I ever need one 😉

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Clever Dude

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