Metro – “expanding fare payment to chip-enabled credit cards, federal government ID cards, and mobile phones”

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu


“Metro announced that the Authority will begin testing a new electronic payment program after awarding Accenture (NYSE: ACN) the contract to replace the existing fare collection systems for Metrorail, Metro-operated parking facilities, Metrobus and MetroAccess services.

The $184 million contract was awarded on a best value basis, following a competitive procurement process that included an examination of the technical capabilities of the shortlisted companies and their proposals, historical performance, and value for money.

The new system will be designed to provide a state of the art system for Metro customers that enables them to continue to use SmarTrip cards, while expanding fare payment to chip-enabled credit cards, federal government ID cards, and mobile phones using near field communications (NFC).

“While Metro pioneered the tap and go system we currently use, by today’s standards that system is cumbersome and the technology is not sustainable,” said Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles. “The new technology will provide more flexibility for accounts, better reliability for riders, and real choices for customers to use bank-issued payment cards, credit cards, ID cards, or mobile phones to pay their Metro fares.”

Washington Metro will be among the first transit systems in the United States to use this advanced technology to enhance reliability, and make travel more convenient for riders. Accenture will help deliver the electronic fare management system by combining its transit experience with industry and functional management consulting expertise in mobility, analytics, customer service, payments, financial services, retail and marketing science. Accenture has successfully implemented similar technology in Canada and the Netherlands.

“Consumers want to see new payment approaches that enable choice and are easy for them to adopt, whether it be contactless payment cards, mobile phone or even today’s SmarTrip card,” said Paul Loftus, Senior Managing Director with Accenture. “We are pleased to be helping Metro meet customers’ current and future fare management needs.”

The system will be built using the Accenture Fare Management Solution, based on commercially off-the- shelf software products. It will use an open architecture that supports a range of payment options and includes the flexibility for future evolution in payment technology.

Later this year, Accenture will provide a pilot program to test the new system in 10 Metrorail stations, aboard 50 branded-route Metrobuses, and in two parking lots. Additionally, 2,000 Metro riders will be selected to participate in the pilot program to test the performance and reliability of the new system.

“We are pleased to be working with an experienced company to bring our customers the same level of technology that we’ve all seen in the airlines and banking industries for payments,” said Metro Deputy General Manager of Administration and Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal. “Over the next several years, customers will see new stainless steel faregates with clamshell-like barriers and large, bright, intuitive displays to ease their entries and exits. We believe this new system will enhance the Metro experience for commuters and visitors alike.”

Similarly, fare vending machines will have large, intuitive, multilingual displays and be fully ADA-compliant. Onboard Metrobus, there will be a new target for customers to tap and MetroAccess customers will be able to validate their trips using the driver’s smartphone and the customer’s ID card.

Metro anticipates lower ongoing maintenance costs as a result of the more modern, component-based technology. Travel transactions and fare calculations will be performed by a central data system which is easier to maintain and manage. In addition, a sophisticated equipment monitoring system to manage maintenance and repair functions will support higher equipment up-time for customers.

When fully deployed, customers will see approximately 1,000 faregates including ADA faregates, 450 fare vending machines, approximately 1,500 bus payment targets, approximately 160 new payment targets at parking exit lanes, and approximately 600 NEPP-compatible smartphones for MetroAccess operators. The new system will not accept paper tickets and Metro will continue the gradual phasing out of paper fare media. Today, less than one in ten Metrorail riders pay for their trip with a paper farecard.”

28 Comment

  • justinbc

    That will be nice. I always have to take my Metro card out of my wallet to swipe since whatever magnetic something or other conflicts with other things inside and it won’t scan otherwise.

  • I wonder if they wil asses a fee for usinf your phone or credit card
    i ask because if that becomes the main source payment they will miss out on the 1 buck for paper cards(i still cant believe this lol) & 5 or so for smart cards….

    • Smartcards now cost only $2. Also, I could imagine that with the decreasing number of riders using paper fare cards, maintaining the dispensers and ability to read the paper cards does now or will soon offset any additional revenue the $1 surcharge brings in.

  • Sounds great for regular users — but possibly sucky for occasional users — unless options for getting Smartcards are expanded and the prices are decreased even further. Maybe fewer than 10 percent of Metrorail riders use paper farecards — but I bet the percentage of non-Smartcard users is higher for people who primarily use the bus. And I bet the people who don’t use Smartcards now, would be even less likely to use credit cards and/or smartphones. I cringe at the thought of vulnerable tourists clutching visible credit cards and smartphones as they try to enter the fare gates at, say Metro Center or Gallery Place — while the Metro announcements caution against having visible electronic devices.

    • +1. There’s a not-insignificant minority of transit users who are unbanked and who don’t have SmarTrip, who pay by cash or with a paper farecard. WMATA has to come up with a good option for those people, or else any new fare system is DOA.

      • What does being un/under-banked have to do with SmartTrip? You can add cash to the card, and if you are low-income, you’re more likely to use public transit more often and would be harder hit by the cash and paper farecard surcharges. I ride the bus often, and the majority of those using cash are tourists. Most people use a SmartTrip or have some sort of pass, and I’ve seen several adding cash to their SmartTrip when they tap in.

        • +1. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of SmarTrip’s capabilities. You in no way have to link it to a credit/debit card, and after the recent decrease in price, they are basically free- the cost of using a paper farecard one or two times.

  • Can’t we just focus on making the damn trains run on time first? Plz&thx

    • justinbc

      Different budget pools. One should not distract “focus” from the other.

    • Other than the red line, they’re actually pretty reliable.

    • Actually, I’ve been noticing problems with the card scanners for a couple of months now. A lot of them don’t work at all, forcing people to change to the next gate at the last minute. Others require several swipings.

      It isn’t my card, since it works fine in most of the readers, and often when there is a problem, the same reader will malfunction for days while the ones next to it continue to work. If this gets worse, the fare gates will be the next escalator problem.

      • God thanks for saying that. I just got a new card a month ago and I feel like it doesn’t work as well. It is the terminals then. So now the terminals are broken, about 1/8 of the escalators work, the Red line is on permanent delay yet there’s going to be another fare hike for the already most expensive metro system in the country. Yeah that makes sense I guess.

        • This is actually a flaw with the current system. The way it works now, your information is centrally stored on WMATA’s servers (not your card), so every time you swipe in, the turnstile needs to talk to the server. To speed this up, the turnstiles preload information for people who use the same stations on a consistent basis. As the number of smartrip users rises, it becomes harder for the turnstiles to keep up.

          By allowing users to pay with other contactless options (cell phones, credit cards, etc.) the strain on WMATAs servers should come down and the process overall should speed up.

  • What could possibly go wrong?

    • This is the right response. Sounds like a giveaway to Accenture. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.
      The system we have right now works just fine. Spend the $184 million on building new stations or other needed upgrades. Buy more train cars. We don’t need a new fare card system.

      • +1. I don’t see what’s wrong with the current system — smells like a sweetheart deal for Accenture.

        • Payment is only one piece of this project, which includes a larger system upgrade that will allow them to do much higher profile things that riders have been asking about for a long time now – things like being able to enter and exit the same rail station without paying. This is the first of many dominoes.

          • I’d hazard a guess that being able to enter/exit the same station without paying is not high up on most Metro riders’ list of priorities… whereas most riders _do_ care about things like working escalators.

  • I’m with “make the trains run on time first.” How is spending $200 M on a luxury a good idea with the amount of maintenance ongoing and proposed budgetary increases? With over 90% of fares being paid by the current system, I’d like to see the business case and how the “lower ongoing maintenance costs” will repay this expense.

    Seems like an Accenture boondoggle to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Sure, I can imagine situations where I’d want to pay with my phone. But for most rides I’d prefer the current system, if for no other reason than phones can get broken or stolen (as Metro keeps reminding us …)

    • This isn’t a luxury. The current system is antiquated and can’t keep up with the load that it currently has. If they don’t deal with this problem now, users will run into larger issues going forward – turnstiles literally will not be able to process all the information that is coming in and users will be unable to enter stations.

  • Ah, Metro. On day adivsing us to keep our smartphones put away to avoid theft, the next day announcing we have to take them out to pay the fare.
    [I know, I know, there’s a difference. But still.]

  • Boo, hiss. NFC? It’s a dead technology. There’s no single standard, and it’s not secure. More importantly, it means no one with an Apple device will be able to use it, despite probably making up the majority of smartphones in the District (and I say that as an Android user). They should have gone with a BLE Beacon solution, which is going to quickly become the industry standard going forward.

    • One more opportunity for Accenture to make money off Metro! “Remember that great job we did installing an NFC system for you? Well, now we can do the same great job with a BLE Beacon system!”

    • Dead technology? Maybe. But it’s at least as alive as BLE Beacon. I wouldn’t be caught dead using paypal for an app like that. Their history is sordidly anti-consumer (although they might be better now). Also, I doubt either will be an “industry standard” soon. A solution in search of a problem …

      The market nationally is something like 50% android, 40% iOS, 10% blackberry / windows.

      • There are other tech providers for BLE Beacons, including Apple and Qualcomm, with Google expected to launch its own version soon. And DC over-indexes on Apple devices.

    • justinbc

      It’s not NFC-only, it’s other options plus NFC. And it won’t happen for a few years anyway, Apple has plenty of time to catch up.

      • Uh, Apple pulled ahead. Which is why Google added support for Bluetooth Beacons on Wallet a month ago, in anticipation of dropping NFC.

  • Here’s what I don’t understand. For regular riders, does anyone really want two tiny charges showing up EVERY DAY on their credit card? That’s going to make reviewing my credit card account a royal pain, having these $1.60 or $2-3 charges interspersed between my real purchases. I like having it separate, on its own card, counting down from a total. I absolutely don’t want it mixed in with my “real” credit card purchases.

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