MTA electronic fare system shows new glitch
Today is Day No. 2 of the Maryland Transit Administration's full-fledge venture into the brave new world of electronic fare collection -- and as far as this occasional rider is concerned the results have been mixed.
One day after my SmartTrip card -- the Washington Metro card that's now supposed to be interchangeable with Baltimore' CharmCard -- was rejected at the Lexington Market Metro Station, it failed to work again today at the North Linthicum light rail station.
When I touched the card to the screen on the ticket vending machine, up came the same old light rail ticket menu giving the option of cash or credit card. It did not seem to want to debit a round-trip fare.
After puzzling it over a bit, I heard a train come chugging into the station. I would have made a credit card purchase, but that would have caused me too miss the train and be late for an appointment. (The immutable law of light rail seems to be that the train always comes into the station just as you're fumbling with the ticket machine.)
I must admit that rather than be late for an event, I jumped on the train without having my payment accepted -- figuring that if a fare inspector came by I would explain the failure of the system to read my SmartTrip card. Perhaps fortunately, no inspector came by before I got off at Camden Yards.
Once there, I tried again at the ticket machine there and the screen gave me the option of activating my card, which I did. It then allowed me to purchase a one-way ticket, but didn't give the option of a round-trip or a day pass.
So, MTA, I'm keeping the $1.60 I saved. You want your money, put in a system that lives up to its billing. I'm just hoping that it recognizes the full-fare paperless ticket I bought when I go home tonight.
Now there is the possibility that through my own ineptness, I failed to follow the proper procedures for using the card. But if that's the case, the MTA is guilty of a failure to idiot-proof the system. There are a lot of us idiots out there, so a system that isn't self-explanatory is about as good as no system at all. It's not good enough that it works. It has to work before the rider misses a train.
An MTA official I spoke with afterward said the agency's inspectors will be taking a forgiving view of those who have CharmCards or SmartTrip cars that have failed to registter a payment. They certainly should -- at least untiil the bugs are ironed out.
In any case, if any MTA riders are given a hard time after a failed attempt to us the electronic fare system, please feel free to contact Getting There.
Here's a tip for MTA: Install readers right on the platform that will deduct a one-way fare automatically when the card is flashed, with no buttons to push or decisions to make. There's nothing riders of the light rail want more than to catch the train that's in the station rather than the one coming in 15 minutes.