Photo by theqlabs on Flickr.

One day, your SmarTrip card will be a memory. Instead, credit cards, mobile phones, or employer ID cards will double as fare payment devices, if WMATA moves ahead with an “Open Payments” system.

Several people have come to WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council meetings recently asking to find out more about this process and this technology. Tonight, the RAC is hosting a member of the team working on this project to answer rider questions.

What if you bought a ticket to a Nats game, or a show at Arena Stage, and it came with a free round-trip ride on Metro to or from the nearby station? Since your credit card can double as fare payment, you wouldn’t even need a special ticket—could the credit card you used to pay for the ticket also automatically get a special free round-trip loaded onto it?

If you get asked to appear on WAMU, they offer you a free parking pass, which you can print out and bring to the station. Why not also offer a free Metro ride to Tenleytown as another option? Imagine if an organization could send you an email, which you could open up on your mobile phone and which contains a special code your phone would recognize and use to add value to your stored fare?

Michael Perkins has been promoting adding more flexible passes like those used in the Seattle area. WMATA has said they need to wait for upgrades to the fare payment system to be able to consider this. Will the new system allow the Board to consider a wide range of options like Michael’s?

In December, WMATA issued an RFP for the next generation of the payment system, and hopes to award a contract this summer.

WMATA got into trouble with the existing Cubic system because any change requires lengthy RFPs, bids, and custom programming that cost lots of money and took years. That limited their options for fare changes that could help riders.

With this new system, it’s important to build in the flexibility they would need. The new contract should anticipate many of the possible innovations, and make sure that the vendor can provide those should the Board choose to pursue them. It should also make it relatively inexpensive and relatively quick to make other modifications we don’t anticipate today.

Now is a good time for riders to give suggestions of what they’d like to see in the new system, or what issues might arise with features, usability, and more that staff should keep in mind as they pick technology vendors.

If you want to learn about the details of this process and give rider feedback on the decisions being made, come to the RAC’s meeting tonight. You don’t have to be a RAC member to ask questions or give comments. The meeting will start around 7:00 pm in one of the rooms at the lobby level of WMATA headquarters, 600 5th Street, NW.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.