DC Metro needs to update systems

I travel to Washington, D.C. often enough that I keep a farecard for the Metro handy so I can get off the plane at Reagan National, walk to the Metro, and be whisked to my destination. On my most recent trip, a minor malfunction revealed gaps in Metro’s systems as well as in its customer service.

After my plane landed, I grabbed my carry-on and headed straight for the train. With a 10:00 p.m. arrival on a Saturday night, I didn’t want to waste any time getting to my hotel near the District’s ChinaTown area.  But my card failed to open the gate and when the station manager checked, he said it had somehow become demagnetized.

He also told me a Customer Service center could exchange the card for me when they opened on Monday, then provided me a pass to my destination rather than make me buy a fare or fare card. Excellent service there.

However, the agent at the Customer Service desk on Monday was less helpful. When I presented her with my dead card, she confirmed the station manager’s assessment, and asked if I had 45 cents to round the balance of $19.55 up to an even $20. When I handed her a $20 bill – the smallest I had – she said she had no change. That was the first indication of poor service.

She suggested I could get change, or she could give me $19 worth of cards. In the moment, giving up 55 cents to save the hassle of finding change seemed a fair exchange. Soon, though, it became obvious that I should have taken the time and trouble.

What the agent gave me was not a single card with $19 credit on it; she gave me a $10 farecard, a $5 farecard, and a $4 farecard.

That is significant because, while riders can effectively reload a farecard when its balance gets low, the only way to combine cards is to buy an electronic SmarTrip® fare card ($10 includes a $5 card fee plus $5 in fare) and load the balances from the farecards on to it. So unless I decide to buy such a card on my next trip to D.C., I’m stuck with three cards instead of one.

That means I’ll eventually have to choose between three options: keep all three cards and use them in rotation (which is annoying and seems pointless), lose even more money when balances on two of my three cards get too low to pay for a fare, or spend $10 for the electronic SmarTrip® card.

The customer service rep should have told me she was going to give me three fare cards and given me the option of going for change, knowing that the three cards can’t be combined. Her manager should have ensured that she had some change (there are still those of us who carry cash for small purchases), and Metro should fix its system so that multiple farecards can be combined.

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