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So Apple thinks it’s a drag to have to take out your wallet in order to pay for stuff. Metro agrees. This fall, it’ll begin rolling out a program to allow people to pay Metro and bus fares with their smartphones.
In typical government-agency fashion, Metro announced today that it will announce Thursday that it will launch a pilot program at 10 Metro stations, on six bus routes, and in two parking facilities. Metro will begin installing the new fare gates and bus- and parking-payment systems in October; they’ll be operational starting in January. In the next few weeks, Metro will recruit customers to participate in the pilot.
The 10 Metro stations that’ll be included in the pilot are Shady Grove, Eisenhower Avenue, Bethesda, Pentagon City, Pentagon, Ballston, Gallery Place (at the 7th and F streets NW entrance), Farragut West, Navy Yard and Suitland. Only one fare gate per station will be converted from what Metro spokesman Dan Stessel calls “ancient technology” to a new stainless steel gate that can accommodate phone payments. The Shady Grove and Suitland parking lots will also be included in the pilot. The six Metrobus routes will be 37, X9, 39, K9, J4, and REX (Richmond Highway Express).
If the pilot goes well, Metro says, all the system’s fare gates and machines will be replaced starting in 2017. But SmarTrip cards, the agency says in a press release, “will continue to be accepted for the foreseeable future.”
“The main goal of this whole program is to eventually eliminate the need for people to convert their U.S. currency into Metro money,” says Stessel, who argues that’ll benefit both D.C. residents and foreign visitors.
Metro will recruit about 2,000 participants for the pilot. Residents may volunteer if their typical commute is between two of the Metro stations included in the pilot or on one of the bus routes. Additionally, Metro will use customers’ SmartBenefits data to identify and contact frequent passengers of these routes. Details of the pilot recruitment will come next month, says Stessel.
The announcement (or announcement of the announcement) coincides with Apple’s unveiling of its newest iPhone series, which will feature a payment system that could make smartphone-enabled fare gates more appealing to many riders. The fare gates, according to Metro, will also accept payment from contactless credit and debit cards, federal ID cards, and near field communication (NFC)-enabled watches. It just so happens that Apple revealed its new NFC-enabled watch, as well.
So are the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and Apple CEO Tim Cook in cahoots? Or has Metro tapped into the secrets of the tightly guarded iPhone plans when no one else could? Sadly, no. Stessel says the timing is purely coincidental, given that the announcement has been on the agenda for Thursday’s Metro meeting for some time now.
This post has been updated to include comment and additional details from Stessel.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery