Washington area set to expand smart-card transit program

Washington area bus riders have long been resigned to the frustration of fumbling for exact change as they race to the bus stop. But the fumbling may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's plans to improve the smart cards it uses for fare payment.

WMATA this week gave two companies 'notice to proceed' on the SmarTrip program, which would let transit riders in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia use one plastic card to pay fares on as many as 17 different transit systems, including WMATA's Metrobus, Montgomery County's Ride-On bus service, and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) trains.

ERG Group of Concord, Calif., and Northrop Grumman Information Technology of Herndon, Va., will offer back-end financial operations and customer service operations for SmarTrip.

Cubic Transportation Systems, a subsidiary of Cubic Corp., is the lead contractor for the project and provides all SmarTrip's network equipment, including the retail point-of-sale network. SmarTrip uses Cubic's cards, card readers and central computer system.

Since May 1999, SmarTrip cards have been accepted for fares in WMATA's Metrorail system and for payment at parking lots operated by Metro.

Metrobuses in Arlington, Va., have accepted the plastic SmarTrip cards for about a year in a pilot program. The buses are equipped with metal fare boxes, which look much like the coin-operated fare boxes that have been on buses for years.

Passengers touch their SmarTrip card to the fare box card reader, instead of depositing change.

The estimated cost for the region to adopt the fare boxes is about $100 million, said Murray Bond, WMATA's director of SmarTrip operations.

When the SmarTrip installation is complete, transit riders 'will be able to go almost anywhere in Maryland, the District and Virginia using the cards,' Bond said.

ERG Group will provide the financial clearing and settlement, card distribution and call center sevices for SmarTrip.

Northrop Grumman IT, a subcontractor and partner to ERG, will distribute the smart cards and operate a customer service center in Reston, Va.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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