Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

One of the next upgrades to the Smartrip card is coming next spring. Metro says that the ability to add the 7-day unlimited rail passes will be available next year.

This should increase rider convenience, encourage people to ride Metrorail off-peak with their unlimited passes, and provide Metro with a steady source of revenue.

However, since some of the transit passes offer a discount compared to a typical commute, the move might lead to a slight drop in revenues. For example, someone who takes 10 maximum-distance peak rides could save $5 per week by buying a pass rather than paying per ride, which is about 10% cheaper.

Currently, the paper rail passes are not very popular because they are inconvenient to purchase and cannot be used to pay for parking or bus trips. The paper rail passes are about 1-2% of Metrorail transactions. By making the passes more convenient, more customers may take advantage of this discount.

The passes will only work for rail trips, and do not allow customers to receive a discount on transfers to or from the region’s bus systems, including Metrobus. The Smart Pass proposal would change the pass to monthly, allow customers to choose how much to pay for their pass, and would work on bus or rail flexibly. The amount the customer pays for a Smart Pass would determine what kinds of trips the pass will cover.

Metro recently rolled out to all riders the ability to add value to a SmarTrip card online. Another upgrade still in the works is “autoload,” where a rider can put a credit card into the system and have it automatically charged each time the SmarTrip value gets low, like you can with E-ZPass.

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Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.