CharmCard shows lack of charm on light rail
The Maryland Transit Administration's new CharmCard represents a significant advance for the agency, but light rail rider Jerry McCann of Lutherville hasn't found it all to be smooth riding. From what I've seen from my few rides on the light rail since the card's introduction, McCann makes some valid points -- especially about the problems in buying a round-trip ticket.
I thought you might want to hear from an early Charm Card adopter about how it works. It's OK but less than charming.
The actual technology of the card itself seems to work well but there are some important information gaps in the literature that comes with the card and on the smartrip.com website about how to use it on the Light Rail. It's important to keep in mind that Light Rail users have been trained to be ready to have their paper tickets and passes periodically inspected by uniformed "Fare Inspectors". Within this context its important that MTA make sure Charm Card users know that they no longer need a paper ticket or pass on the Light Rail. Fare Inspectors now carry a Charm Card scanner box that verifies that a rider has used the card to pay an appropriate fare.
Without that knowledge I assumed the Charm Card would act like a debit or credit card had been acting at the machines. With a credit card one selects the desired ticket, inserts a credit card and receives a fare ticket and, if requested, a receipt. With the Charm Card one can still request a receipt but no fare card is issued. That's electronically captured on the card for possible scanning on the train. As a result I missed one train trying to figure out what I had done wrong or how to get my money back. Neither is possible. Instead I purchased a second fare and requested a receipt to make sure I didn't get ticketed if a fare inspection occurred. Luckily there was a fare inspector on the next train who explained the new system to me claiming its all in the literature that came with the card. It's not: I checked again last night. We bought the card at a CVS drugstore for $2.50 and registered it online. The literature in the envelope does not discuss Light Rail.
The information is also not on the website. Light Rail isn't mentioned on the CharmCard page: http://mtacharmcard.com/howto/procedures.htm
On another part of the website the following not very informative statement appears:
"Light Rail: At the TVM on the right side of screen under SMART CARD select ‘Purchase Single-Trip Fare or Activate Pass for First Ride’. Select single trip fare or activate a previously purchased pass. Touch your card to the target. Your fare will be deducted or pass activated and verified." http://mtacharmcard.com/whatischarmcard/faq.htm#q7 This fails to explain that the typical Light Rail requirement of having a paper ticket no longer applies.
Another problem is highlighted in that statement. One can purchase single trips but not round trips. Since I'm a periodic rider of the Light Rail (2-3 days/week) weekly or monthly passes that expire with the calendar are no good to me but round trips are. I had hoped that the Charm Card would make this process more convenient but now I need to purchase a ride every time I get on the train instead of just in the morning.
The final annoyance is that I get off downtown at the Lexington Market Station. The ticket vending machines at the Southbound station are equipped for Charm Card access. That's nice but heading downtown I've already purchased a ride. The ticket vending machines at the Northbound Lexington Market station which is one block North of the Southbound station are not yet equipped for Charm Card access. So not being permitted to buy a round trip ticket I need to add a block to the walk to the train going home to purchase the ride back. This may be fixed sooner or later but my experience with the Light Rail is that it is likely to be later.
Like I said, technology is OK but the experience is less than charming.
We'll let you know what the MTA has to say when we hear from them.