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Paper farecard users to bear brunt of fare hike

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

One of the biggest changes that comes with the fare hikes is a bigger charge for riders using paper farecards.

Metro will raise the surcharge for paper cards from 25 cents to $1 for each trip, starting on Sunday, no matter how long the trip or time of day. That amounts to a hefty jump, given it is on top of fare increases. Bus riders will continue to pay a 20-cent surcharge if they pay cash instead of using a SmarTrip card.

The idea is to encourage people to use plastic SmarTrip cards, which are cheaper for the agency. But more than 10 percent of rail riders still use paper cards.

The surcharge will especially hit visitors to the region who rely on the transit system to sightsee. At the same time, the cost of the all-day rail pass is jumping from $9 to $14, giving visitors fewer affordable options.

But the surcharge also will hurt riders who don't use SmarTrip cards because of cost, privacy concerns or fear of losing the $5 plastic cards.

Metro plans to offer riders a $3 rebate to those who register new cards online starting on Sept. 1. But the agency's Riders' Advisory Council says that is happening two months too late, given the higher surcharge starts Sunday.

The group also worries that the card registration rebate will be offered only online, meaning it will not be available to riders without Internet access, who are disproportionately elderly, low-income or disabled. Those are people who tend to be more likely to use paper farecards.

Metro is planning to reach out to SmarTrip customers who may not have Internet access, including working through social service agencies, said Metro spokesman Philip Stewart.

But the RAC is asking Metro to make sure information about the rebate program is circulated to libraries, community centers and other spots that provide public Internet access.

The agency recently added SmarTrip card vending machines at the 10 stations that now sell the most paper farecards: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom-GWU, Union Station, Smithsonian, Rosslyn, Farragut West, Gallery Place-Chinatown, Pentagon City and Vienna/Fairfax-GMU. It plans to have at least one vending machine in the remaining 76 stations by Sept. 1.

The RAC also asked that the vending machines be available at major bus transfer points, government facilities, libraries and the region's airports.

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