Metro News Release

For immediate release: May 21, 2014

Upgrade to fare vending machines puts Metro on path to eventually eliminate paper farecards

Machines will dispense SmarTrip® cards once upgraded

Metro plans to retrofit more than 500 fare vending machines at stations throughout the system to dispense SmarTrip cards, rather than paper farecards.  The move will put the transit system on a path to eventually phase out the 1970’s-era paper farecards and position the system for Metro’s next generation electronic payment program.

Metro Board’s Finance and Administration Committee recently approved the Fiscal Year 2015 capital budget, which includes the use of SmarTrip® reserve funds to retrofit the fare vending machines over the next two years.  The full Board is expected to consider the capital budget tomorrow.

Metro is steadily transitioning away from the use of 1970’s-era magnetic paper farecard technology.  The machinery used to process paper farecards is outmoded and includes an intricate system of rollers, printers, sensors, and wiring that is difficult and time consuming to maintain when compared to the contactless SmarTrip technology.

Today, more than 90 percent of all Metrorail riders already use a SmarTrip card to pay for their trip.

SmarTrip® is faster, safer and more convenient than using a paper farecard in several ways:

  • Lower cost. On Metrorail, each trip taken with a SmarTrip® card costs $1 less than those taken with a paper farecard. A new SmarTrip card ($2) pays for itself after only one roundtrip, versus using a paper farecard.
  • More secure. SmarTrip cards can be registered online.  If the card is lost or stolen, the unused value can be transferred to a new card.  Paper farecards do not offer the same protections. 
  • More durable. Moisture or demagnitization can easily destroy a paper farecard, resulting in a loss of value. SmarTrip cards don't have these issues.
  • Transfer benefits. SmarTrip® is also the only way to take advantage of cost-saving transfer options between Metrobus and Metrorail.
  • Set it and forget it. Metro’s newest feature, called Auto Reload, gives SmarTrip users the convenience of having value automatically loaded to their card anytime their balance drops below $10.  It’s a “set it and forget it” feature that means riders always have value on their card without having to stop at a vending machine.

Even after all upgrades are completed, paper farecards will continue to be accepted for a period of time to allow riders ample time to deplete their value. 

Eliminating paper farecards has several benefits for riders and for Metro, including:

  • Faster entry/exit for all riders. Riders who tap SmarTrip cards pass through the gates faster than those who use paper farecards.  When all riders use SmarTrip, there will be fewer backups at faregates, especially during major events such as Nationals games, Fourth of July, Inauguration and Cherry Blossom season.
  • More reliable fare gates. The machinery inside fare gates that rolls, scans, prints and captures paper farecards is intricate and requires frequent maintenance.  It is also 1970’s technology.  Discontinuing its use will mean more faregates in service, more of the time.  It will also reduce expenses for Metro.
  • It’s better for the environment. Last year, Metro dispensed 14.8 million paper farecards.  If laid end-to-end, the line of farecards would run from Washington, DC past Chicago, IL. That’s a lot of paper, and a lot of magnetic strips.  Reusable SmarTrip cards reduce this waste, and tourists and riders get a more durable souvenir.

Customers can expect to start seeing upgraded fare vending machines in Metrorail stations late next year.

Metro is currently advancing a project that will eventually allow riders to pay for Metro travel using contactless debit or credit cards, mobile phones or federal ID cards.  More info


SmarTrip® is a registered trademark of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

News release issued at 12:52 pm, May 21, 2014.