MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, obviously people aren't the only things on earth that age. In this next story, we'll take a look at some aging technology in the D.C. region. Metro's SmarTrip card was heralded as a high tech breakthrough not too long ago, but it's already sliding into obsolescence. And that's the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Here to talk about the potential changes in store for SmarTrip is transportation reporter, David Schultz. Hi, David.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
Hey, so it seems like almost everyone has one of these SmarTrip cards nowadays. But for those who might not have one, can you remind us what they are?
Yeah, well, they're the electronic cards that we use to pay to get onto Metro. And I have mine right here. It's green and blue. It has a picture of the Monument on the cover and the Capitol. When they debuted in the late '90s, these were cutting edge. You could store hundreds of dollars on these cards as opposed to the paper fare cards. Which is really convenient and you could also register them, which meant if you lose this SmarTrip card, you could keep the value, you wouldn't lose it.
But I remember hearing a while back that Metro was, like, running out of the SmarTrip cards or something. There was -- I think it was like a snafu with one of its manufacturers. They only had a limited number of them left. What was the deal with that? What happened?
Yeah, so that was an issue with the chip that makes the SmarTrip card do what it does. The company that makes that chip went out of business, essentially. They were not making this chip anymore. But the problem was, Metro couldn't get another company to make the chip because the first company held a proprietary right over that technology.
So, basically, they couldn't move forward, they couldn't move back. They only had a two-year supply of these SmarTrip cards on hand and everyone was sort of panicking and saying, what are we going to do? What are we going to do? Well, I spoke with Kurt Raschke who is an IT consultant who specializes in transit and he's been following this story very closely.
He says that eventually Metro was able to contract with another company to make a similar chip for the SmarTrip card. So now we have an abundance of these cards left, the two-year deadline has pretty much dissolved.
But the way technology is moving, I'm assuming the SmarTrip cards will move forward in some way. Do we know what these cards will look like in, say, a year or, I don't know, 5 years, 10 years?
Yeah, no. Big changes are coming for the SmarTrip card in the near term and the long term. Near term, Metro is looking to allow its riders to add value to these cards online. So you can just go online and put more money on them rather than having to go to a station. After that, Metro is also looking to create a direct deposit function. So you could actually link your SmarTrip card to your bank account and just move money over automatically from your checking account to your SmarTrip card.
But, in the long term, Metro wants to replace the SmarTrip card all together. They want to make it so you can just have one card in your wallet that can be your credit card, your debit card, your government ID and your SmarTrip card.
Okay, but what if, say, you don't have a credit card or you don't have a government ID or you just don't feel comfortable taking out your credit card in public, in a Metro station. What then?
Yeah, I spoke to Raschke about that and he said that Metro is committed to always having a cash alternative on hand. So for people who don't have a credit card or who don't want to use their credit card for their Metro fare, Metro will always allow its riders to pay in cash. Now, another thing that Metro is really looking to do and this probably pretty far off into the future, is they want to standardize the technology for the SmarTrip cards, not just in D.C. but across many different transit systems in the country.
So what that would mean is, you could use the same card in D.C., in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta. And that would really be really convenient for people who travel and don't want to have to buy a different fare card for every city they're in.
Convenience, sure. But wouldn't that also take a ton of coordination between cities? How feasible is it, really?
Well, it's more feasible than you might think. It would take a lot of coordination among the different cities, but Raschke says this technology is becoming standardized. So when Metro first debuted the SmarTrip card back in the late '90s, you know, they had to engineer it from scratch. Now, he says, you can really buy this technology off the shelf. And it's becoming more standard.
So it's not inconceivable to think that one day you could possibly have a fare card that works in any city in the country or across the globe.
So with all these potential changes in the SmarTrip card, do we know what Metro riders have to say about all this?
Well, I spoke to a few at the courthouse Metro station in Arlington, Va., and here's what they had to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1
I think, it'd be awesome, yeah, definitely direct deposit part of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2
I think that would. That takes a even more convenient tab that, to definitely have the direct deposit and then have it on one particular card and just keep it moving. I think that'll be excellent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
I don't think it is. The way it is now, there's not enough protection and if I lose my card, somebody can just pick it up and they'll be able to use and money will be coming out of my account without me knowing it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3
You know, I guess people that get around to -- from city to city and need to use them, that'd be good for them. It wouldn’t hurt us, I don't think, if it's, you know, same here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 4
That's excellent. That would definitely help out a whole lot. And especially if you happen to be there and you're thinking you're going to be there for a week or so and you end up, your business trip is cut short, you basically have kind of wasted your money, place that card aside and now you're in another city doing another card. So it'll be great for all of them to kind of intertwine together.
Well, it sounds like we have quite a plethora of opinions when it comes to the SmarTrip card changes we might be seeing in the future. Thanks so much David Schultz for taking the time to fill us in.
Yeah, thanks, Rebecca.
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