May 28, 2010

Metro for Tourists: Farecards and Passes

Before I even begin this post let me say that the fare structure looks like it will be changing this summer so this post will have to be updated.  But until then, here's how we roll right now.

Let's go back to our travel scenario from the previous post.  You're getting on at Rockville and off at Smithsonian. Now, you've parked your car (yes this is important to note) and walked into the station.  You'll want to head to one of the fare machines, like these people have done.

Photo from flickr user thisisbossi

Each person must have their own farecard.  Sorry, no matter how attached at the hip you are with your bff, there's no way to share.  There are two kinds of farecards: paper and SmarTrip.  The paper card is pretty simple and disposable, the SmarTrip is a more permanent card but the only way to pay for parking.  This post will only be about paper farecards and passes, but the next post will sing the glories of SmarTrip.

So you're staring at the machines and realize there are two types: the more simple "Farecard" machines or the "Passes/Farecard" machine with more options.  Let's start with one of the Farecard Machines, which only takes cash and only spits out farecards.

 Photo from flickr user garrett.farlow

The chart at the top of the machine tells you the price of your ride from the station you're in to any other station in the system.  Look up Smithsonian and you'll see two prices: regular and reduced fare.  Regular fare is 5-9:30am, and then again from 3-7pm.  Reduced fare is any other time.  Each fare is one-way so you'll have to decide if you want to put your round trip value on now, or add more later when you decide what time you're coming back.  Metro farecards have monetary value on them, not a number of trips or a zone.  You can always add more money later if you need to, though you might be fighting crowds to get to a machine later.

You've finally decided how much money you want to put on your paper card.  So at this machine you put your cash in (bills and/or coins).  Then you can adjust the value you want on your card by using the up and down buttons for dollars and cents.  This way if you put $5 in and only want $4.90 on your card, it'll give you the ten cents back.  Step 3 is hitting the button that says "Push for Farecard" and out will pop the farecard from the slot below, and your change will drop at the bottom.  All done!

Now let's follow the steps on one of the blue machines.  It has the same fare chart at the top.

 Photo from flickr user afagen

The screen gives you three options.  A - Passes, B - Single Farecard, C - Multiple Farecards.  We're going with the Single Farecard, so push the B button.  (We'll talk about passes later.)  In this machine you choose the value of your card first, so press the (+) and (-) buttons for dollars and cents till you get the value you want.  Press C to view your selected value, then C to confirm it.  Then you pay, either with cash through the slots on the left, or with a credit/debit card with the slot by the keypad on the right.  If you're using a card, insert it then quickly pull it out, and follow the instructions.  It'll take a few seconds to process the transaction, then spit out your card!

Now you may be wondering what these magical passes things are.  Well, the most useful pass for you may be the One-Day pass, which allows you unlimited rail travel after 9:30am on weekdays or all day on weekends and major holidays.  If you think you'll be traveling around a bit in the system, this may be the card for you.  Just remember, you'll need to start your day after 9:30am if it's a weekday (you don't want to deal with rush hour anyway), but it's good for the entire rest of the day.  A one-day pass is currently $8.30, so you may want to do some math to see if it's worth it for you.  To buy a pass, you need to be at one of the blue "Passes/Farecard" machine.  Just pick option A, pick the kind of pass you want, then pick the number of passes (remember, each person needs a farecard).  Payment is the same as a regular farecard.

Now that you feel like an expert tourist who can buy paper farecards and passes, the next post throws a wrench in the whole concept to talk about SmarTrip cards and paying for parking.

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