Measuring the Impact of SmarTrip® Initiatives

July 22nd, 2013

Metro first rolled out SmarTrip® on rail in 1999, breaking new ground as the first contact-less smart card used for transit in the United States. Metro began rolling out SmarTrip® on bus in 2002 and then to Metrorail parking facilities in 2004.   While the utility of SmarTrip® was immediately obvious to many customers, others required a bit of encouragement to switch to the fare media that is most cost-effective for Metro and customers alike.

Usage of SmarTrip® on rail has been growing steadily since its launch, but use on bus seemed to plateau around 20% on bus starting in about July 2006 until about January 2008.  That was the date when Metro began its first major initiative to encourage people to move to SmarTrip by implementing a $0.10 surcharge for using cash on bus.

Since then, Metro has rolled out new SmarTrip features and additional incentives to continue the increase in SmarTrip use rate.

The chart below illustrates the changes in SmarTrip use rate on both bus and rail, overlaid with the dates of the initiatives and feature releases that helped motivate customers to switch to SmarTrip.  The usage rate now is nearly 90% on both bus and rail!

It’s interesting to note that the SmarTrip use percentage on rail includes seasonal variability whereas the use on bus is more consistent month-to-month.  This is likely due to larger numbers of tourists using rail during the summer months and cherry blossom season, reducing usage rates during those times.


SmarTrip Percentage on Rail and Bus compared to SmarTrip Initiatives. Click picture for larger version.

What other strategies might Metro consider to further increase SmarTrip® usage on bus and rail?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. jnb
    July 22nd, 2013 at 15:43 | #1

    That’s a very cool graphic, and nice results from the initiatives. It would be cool to know what cost savings to the agency had resulted from these, too, and/or operational improvements. Reduced dwell time for bus boarding? Or are people still using bus on-board smart trip to load value?

  2. July 23rd, 2013 at 11:10 | #2

    I don’t think it will ever be possible to get SmarTrip usage up to 100%. Well, unless you make that the only option (like Atlanta did), but then you’ll still have people without cards paying cash to board buses.

    At this point, I’d rather see initiatives focus on speeding boarding.

    I think one way to achieve that could be to have a minimum load for using the bus farebox (like you have to load at least $5 on a SmarTrip). There are a few people on my bus line who load exactly one fare each morning. It’s painfully slow.

    Another alternative would be to have a SmarTrip reader located on the passenger side of the aisle across from the driver so that when the first person in line is loading his or her SmarTrip, the other passengers in line who just need to tap on can go around.

    And on the rail side, many stations need more faregates.

    I’d also suggest for the benefit of tourists that when you get new faregates, the “green arrow” and “do not enter” signs on the faregates be raised higher so that they are more visible, and the screens that display balance/messages be tilted so that they are more easily visible (rather than pointing straight up).

  3. Michael
    July 23rd, 2013 at 11:35 | #3

    I agree with the first comment and encourage WMATA to implement a minimum value to add to a SmarTrip card on board buses. At least make it cash only for adding fare value.

    Adding fare value on buses should be banned but I understand we have to accomodate all (but its those few who are making things miserable for the majority). My suggestion would be to accomodate adding fare value in some other way, such as through better advertisement of adding fare value online and making add fare more widely available at local libraries, high schools/colleges/universities, transit hubs, government offices, CVS, Giant, Safeway, etc… (WMATA staff should go to these types of places and offer training and equipment along high use bus routes).

  4. Jared Christian
    July 23rd, 2013 at 12:01 | #4

    1) Convert atleast one faregate in each station into a smartrip express lane.
    2) Create credit/debit only (thus much smaller) add fare machines that can be placed in some high volume spots around the region like universities, libraries, bus stops on major routes, etc. (Like post # 3)
    3) Put smartrip machines in some really high volume spots like Nationals Park, somewhere touristy on the mall, etc.

  5. Arlington Travler
    July 23rd, 2013 at 15:34 | #5

    I too agree with the need to implement a minimum threshold requirement for adding value to Smartrip cards on buses. I too would prefer to see adding value on buses banned, but I don’t think that idea would fly politically, so how about setting a minimum add of $5 and seeing what that does to average boarding times.

  6. Donald M.
    July 24th, 2013 at 02:47 | #6

    Strange this report talks “incentives ” & “encouragement” vice the more accurate “coercion” ……

    Also, nary a mention of the downsides to the rider. When your “smart card” dies, you are SOL and lose any stored value…..UNLESS you bow to Big Brother and register it, and thus all your travels, with NSA^H^H WMATA. (Last time I looked, Metro now wants your DoB as well as address, phone, etc. Is a DNA sample next???)

    A bad farecard can be traded in at a Sales Office, but not a dead smart card.
    Buy a new one, mail in the old, and wait a few weeks.

    Did WMATA ever explain how they log ALL your travel, forever? And they are not Google; they don’t require a warrant to surrender your data to the cops….all the cops need to do is ask WMATA for it. Hail the Fourth Amendment!

  7. Michael
    July 24th, 2013 at 06:09 | #7

    I, for one, will never use smart trip so long as a TLC is cheaper to use than a SmarTrip, even if I almost never use mine for MARC. The unlimited feature of the TLC saves me at least $60/month versus using a SmarTrip card, since I commute via bus and Metro from past SG daily into the District (unfortunately not near Union Station). On the few occasions I use MARC, I don’t have to pay for parking, and switch to the Red Line at Rockville.

  8. Michael
    July 26th, 2013 at 13:37 | #8

    Thanks for your comments, all. Please see the PDF below for a presentation to the Riders Advisory Council on our work on off-board bus fare payment:

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