Nearly every Metro fare machine has a paper sign on it: “Using a paper farecard? Add $1 to every trip.” Yet even with this reminder, some riders get stuck at the faregates, wondering why Metro won’t let them leave.

Photo by Tim Krepp.

Most people riding Metro use SmarTrip, and that’s great. But the ones that are more likely to need extra help with a fare table are the infrequent customers that use a paper farecard.

It makes no sense to list SmarTrip prices on the fare table and then ask people to add $1. Riders shouldn’t need to do math to figure out how much to put on their farecards. We want to make purchasing a farecard as easy as possible, while not necessarily offering them the best deal possible.

The simplest solution would be to list the paper farecard prices on the tables, and then have notes that SmarTrip riders get a discount. Even if these riders don’t notice, they’ll just end up with extra money on their cards, which they can use later.

An even better approach would be to eliminate the $1 surcharge, and instead always charge peak fares for people using paper farecards. The fare machines would simply list the peak fare for each destination, with a note that SmarTrip customers get discounts during off-peak, discounted transfers to and from trips on buses, protected fare balances (with registration) and a guarantee that they won’t be trapped in the system if their balance goes too low.

All paper farecard customers would have to do is look up their destination, and make sure their farecard had the corresponding amount. No math, no timetables, no figuring out whether it’s currently peak or off-peak.

WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel said the agency is aware of the confusion and complaints about these signs, and is “considering” making changes to the posted fare tables and signs.

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.