Washington Metro Readies a Mobile Payments Package

April 13, 2018         By: Steven Anderson

File this under “better late than never,” but riders on the Washington Metro public transportation system will soon be able to pay for those rides not just with the standard SmarTrip card, but also with a mobile device. “Soon” here, meanwhile, means “before the end of 2019.”

Washington Metro has actually been working for some time now to upgrade its fare collection systems, reports note, and in so doing, the company is retooling the entire infrastructure. With the latest changes, eventually users will be able to tap a mobile device at the faregate to pay for the trip.

Plus, there’s some refinement coming to the larger app as well, not just payments; users will be able to check fares, add money to their account and even get updates on services in real time. Any platform that accepts SmarTrip now—Metrobus, Metrorail, or the regional services—will be able to take mobile payments when the retooling has concluded.

Several systems are being upgraded in aid of this, including fareboxes, faregates, and vending machines that offer access to fare payment. The process is expected to conclude sometime in 2019, and ultimately support several different mobile payments alternatives. Just which, however, is as yet unknown.

Metro’s general manager Paul J. Wiedefeld noted “Mobile fare payment is the future of transit, giving customers the ability simply to tap their phone and go, all without stopping at a fare vending machine or using a separate card. Not only will this be a better, easier experience, but will cost less to operate.”

On the one hand, this might be welcome news. It speeds things up, it gets people through lines faster and gets them to where they need to go, more quickly, more easily, and better all around. When they note that it “costs less,” it may not even mean firings, but rather lower electrical costs thanks to more energy-efficient systems as well as a streamlined SmarTrip operation. I’m all in favor of a better customer experience, especially if it’s not preceded by phrases like “massive layoffs.”

In the end, the Washington Metro is likely discovering the value of mobile payments in operations, and it’s one that should be felt throughout the whole chain.