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Free Rides? Metro To Test Rider-Friendly Monthly 'SelectPass'

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The Select Pass will get you through the fare gates a few times a month for free.
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The Select Pass will get you through the fare gates a few times a month for free.

Given its financial troubles — structural operating budget deficits loom for years to come — Metro is not in a great spot to be giving away rides. But the transit authority leaders are trying to win back commuters who have fled the system, reducing ridership to its lowest level since 2004.

To that end, Metro will unveil on a limited basis a new monthly pass — SelectPass — that the agency’s top planner says will save regular commuters “20 percent or more on their monthly travel costs.”

SelectPass will not benefit Metro’s long-distance commuters in the test phase that begins April 1 (the passes will go on sale online March 16). The SelectPass website advertises for people who use Metro at least four times a week with a typical trip between $2.15 and $3.75 one way.

“Select the price that works for you. The pass will be loaded to your SmarTrip card at the beginning of the month. Ride Metro for 18 days roundtrip, and get the rest of the month for free,” the website says.

So if your usual one-way, rush hour commute costs $3.75, for example, you would pay $135 at the start of a month. That covers 18 round-trips. April has 21 work days, so you would receive 3 round-trips free ($22 savings), and all your off-peak and weekend trips free, too.

The SelectPass is designed to prevent commuters from gaming the system. If, for example, your usual commute is $2.15 but you decide to ride from downtown D.C. all the way out to Reston during rush hour ($5.90), the difference will be deducted from your regular SmartTrip balance.

Metro believes it will get something in return for the free trips, said Shyam Kannan, WMATA’s top planner.

“It's a better relationship with our customers, first of all. I think that Metro is in the business of moving people and we want to make sure that we have got structures out there that make it appealing to choose a Metro trip, choose a transit trip,” Kannan said.

How much the free rides will cost Metro remains to be seen, depending on how many people sign up for the pass and whether the transit authority decides to make it permanent and available to all commuters.

On Thursday, the Metro board’s finance committee approved next year’s budget that contains another commuter-friendly provision. Riders who enter a rail station will receive a refund if they choose to turn around and exit within 15 minutes, a tap in, tap out grace period.

For years riders have complained about having to pay the minimum fare ($2.15 during rush hour) after doing an about-face after passing through the gates. It is not uncommon for commuters to enter a station, descend the escalators, and witness rush hour chaos: packed platforms and no train coming for several minutes.

Starting July 1, if you turn around and tap out within 15 minutes of tapping in your SmarTrip card, you will be refunded the following day.

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