SmarTrip card users are about to see their fare cut in half. But the change could also lead to costly problems for Metro.
After months of wrangling over the matter, officials announced recently that the $5 fee for the plastic cards will be reduced to $2.50, and that to help things process smoothly, new cards would come pre-loaded with a $2.50 credit.
The fare reduction had been slated for August, but was delayed after officials realized the lower fee might rouse trouble – such as scams that would allow commuters to ride trains at a value more than that of their card. The change would also enable commuters to exit the rail with their card showing a negative balance. As a result of the loopholes, Metro would face a $1 million loss.
Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, who sits on the Metro board, described the situation as a “very upsetting” process.
“We have been given so much misinformation on this and how much it’ll cost for a SmarTrip card to be produced,” Graham said. “And the last information I had was that it would be a dollar or more in excess of what we’d previously been told by staff. So I don’t know where we are with things at this time.”
Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said the plan still is to reduce the card fares. “Basically, there were different options that staff had looked at,” Gates said, “and the reason the price reduction had been delayed was they were looking at ways to make the card available at lower price, while eliminating any potential for fraud that might occur.”
Gates said that currently cards are purchased with a zero value and that Metro allows commuters one exit with a negative balance. She added that staff has recommended selling the cards for $2.50 but with some value already on them. “At least $2.50 or the weekly bus pass that we are making available on the SmarTrip card,” said Gates.
Metro officials, who asked staff to come up with ways to better effect the change, are scheduled to further discuss the matter on Oct. 14 during their finance and administration committee meeting.