Metro getting closer to credit card payments on rail, bus

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Local,Liz Essley,Metro,Metro and Traffic

Metro is getting closer to letting riders pay for bus and train rides with credit cards, smartphones or even federal ID cards.

The new system is supposed to eliminate the need for flimsy fare cards or pesky SmarTrip machines.

Like London's bus and subway system, it would allow riders to tap their credit cards or other devices on a machine.

The system would require new fare gates, a central computer and an updated website. But it would end up saving Metro more than $30 million per year by 2030, according to a 2011 Metro analysis.

The transit agency is in the final stages of getting a contractor to develop the system, Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas said. About a year after the contract is awarded, Metro will start a pilot program and testing, and then it will gradually phase in the new system over three years, agency documents show.

But the new payment deal is already a year behind.

Metro's board of directors first approved pursuing the system in 2009. A contract was supposed to be awarded in the first quarter of 2012, and seven companies had lined up to compete for it in 2011. Instead, the transit agency issued another request for bids in May 2012.

Lukas would not say why, refusing to comment on "an ongoing procurement process."

Metro board member Bill Euille said he recalled a "problem" with one of the companies picked to do the job, though he could not remember details.

The transit agency said in the past it needed the new system because of ongoing problems and escalating costs to repair its current fare gate and payment system. Glitches held up a fare increase in 2010, and SmarTrip machines have frequently flummoxed customers over the years.

"Metro's existing fare collection system is aging rapidly in the context of equipment and systems and it is severely limited in its flexibility to introduce new products and payments for its customers," Metro officials wrote in a 2011 memo.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner