The chief of the Maryland Transit Administration says the launch Tuesday of the system's new CharmCard electronic payment system is just the first step in an effort to streamline the use of transportation services in the Baltimore region.
MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells said at a news conference at the Charles Center Metro Station that “nothing is off the table” in terms of future applications of the new “smart cards, which now can be used to pay fares on local buses, the Metro and the light rail system.
“We’re open to anything that will allow more accessibility to various transportation modes,” Wells said at the long-awaited CharmCard, which has been more than a decade in development.
The card is designed to be compatible with the Washington Metro system’s SmartTrip card and is usable on all of the systems that accept that form of payment, including suburban bus routes in the suburbs of the District of Columbia. MTA officials expect the system to reduce delays by making it unnecessary for customers to fumble for exact change.
For now, the cards can’t be used on MARC trains or MTA commuter passes, but Wells indicated that the agency hopes to add that capability in the coming years. He said the MTA is also interested in other suggested uses, such as payment of parking garage fees in downtown lots.
“This is a first step but it is a major step forward,” Wells said.
The MTA has been moving in fits and starts toward adopting smart card technology since 1999. The technology is increasingly becoming the standard in the U.S. transit industry.
The CharmCard will let MTA customers store value on a chip embedded in the card and to debit their accounts each time they board a bus or pass through a Metro or light rail station. Value can be added to the cards at the same locations, using either cash or credit cards.
The MTA cards went on sale Tuesday for $2.50 at CVS and Giant stores, as well as the MTA’s downtown transit store and web site. The agency is also setting up tables at various transit sites around the region at which riders can purchase a card with $5 in fare value, with no charge for the card itself.
According to the MTA, the system has been tested by hundreds of volunteers since November.
As of Tuesday, the MTA was also scheduled to begin accepting the Washington Metro’s SmartTrip cards on the transit systems that use the CharmCard.
The launch wasn’t exactly seamless as a turnstile at the Lexington Market Metro Station wouldn’t recognize one of the Washington-issued cards. About an hour later, however, the same card worked for the reverse journey.
“It’s all new technology. There’s going to be glitches,” Wells said.
MTA officials said the smart cards are now compatible with the use of two-way tickets, day passes and 7- and 30-day passes at the current rates. However such special passes as those used by seniors have yet to be integrated into the system.
Officials said the current passes can still be used on MTA transit systems. Wells said he hopes the senior passes will be integrated into the CharmCard system early next year.