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Metro Plans to Get Rid of Paper Fare Cards

The transit agency says it's time for everyone to use a SmarTrip card.
No more of these in 18 months. Photograph by Flickr user Quinn Dombroski.

Metro says it’s finally time to do away with paper fare cards and have every passenger use one of its sturdier, plastic SmarTrip cards when boarding a train or bus, according to the transit agency’s new budget. Over the next 18 months, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says it will modify the machines that dispense paper fare cards to dispense SmarTrip cards only.

The $8.7 million upgrade plan, part of Metro’s fiscal 2015 budget set to be adopted Thursday, will be paid for by sales of SmarTrip cards, which cost $10 apiece and come loaded with $8 worth of fares. 

Eventually, says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel, the transit agency will stop taking paper fare cards altogether. But it’s unlikely there will be any negative reaction to this transition to an all-SmarTrip system; 93 percent of Metro riders are already using the plastic cards, and fares paid with paper cards come with a $1 surcharge.

Metro reasons that a system that takes payments only SmarTrip cards will reduce bottlenecks at busy points like Washington Nationals games, presidential inaugurations, and, of course, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, when Metro is at its busiest.

Tourists probably won’t notice much of a difference, either, as one-, seven-, and 28-day passes are already available in SmarTrip form. Instead, paper fare cards, the technology for which hasn’t been updated since the 1970s, will go the way of the New York City subway token—as a relic of a bygone era of mass transit.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.