The days of digging around in your pockets or your bag for that SmarTrip card to swipe in to the Metrorail or Metrobus systems are officially gone — and we don’t just mean for transit riders who are staying home these days.
Metro announced today that iPhone users will now be able to migrate existing SmarTrip cards — and add new ones — to Apple Wallet. Instead of a plastic card that’s prone to getting lost, riders will be able to tap their iPhones to enter and exit at fare gates and to get on the bus.
The agency also rolled out an app that enables riders to add passes and value to SmarTrip cards — performing much the same job as rail station fare machines and other retail locations where riders currently perform Metro transactions.
“It’s a much safer, faster, more convenient way to enter our system,” said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. “It is really the future.”
The digital SmarTrip cards will be usable on Metrorail and Metrobus, as well as on the 13 regional bus providers that are already compatible with SmarTrip. The capability to reload SmarTrip cards via smartphone is a particular boon to bus riders, who currently have to go online or to a store or a Metrorail station to load their SmarTrip cards.
Users will also be able to automate reloading their SmarTrip card in Apple Wallet.
Nearly all Metro riders have a smartphone, according to Wiedefeld. He said the agency is currently working with Google to make the same digital options available to Android users, but could not give a specific timeline for that.
Metro originally teased the digital future of SmarTrip in a series of tweets in December.
The announcement comes as Metro confronts steep ridership declines and a stark financial picture. Wiedefeld said Metro invested $20 million in the project, but sees long-term value in the outlay.
“This is about customers, this is about attracting customers,” Wiedefeld said. “That’s where the payoff is.”
Wiedefeld said Metro also expects to see some cost savings and cost avoidance as customers adopt the new digital options. The system might be able to cut back on the number of fare machines, for instance, and — post-pandemic — it would be able to reduce staffing for large events when many people use the system’s fare machines.
Metro does not expect to go fully cashless, or to get rid of plastic SmarTrip cards altogether — at least not in the “immediate future,” Wiedefeld said.