American University recently launched a pilot program to integrate SmarTrip fare card technologies into university identification cards, according to AU Student Government President Andy MacCracken.
MacCracken distributed 20 cards to students, staff and faculty for a testing period that began in mid-February. The SmarTrip cards – nearly the same dimensions of a GOCard – allow patrons to enter the Metro rail system and pay Metro bus fare by tapping the card on a reader. The SmarTrip fare on Metro buses, at $1.25, is 10 cents less than the cash fare.
The cards combine the SmarTrip wireless functionality with the typical magnetic strip swipe function, which allows students to access residence halls, meal plans and debit dollars, MacCracken said. Metro provided blank card stock to the university, which printed student ID information onto the card surface, he said.
Georgetown attempted a similar program last academic year, but the card stock that Metro provided to the university was not durable enough to handle extensive use, Roman Fahrmann, director of GOCard Services, said.
“There were too many card failures,” Fahrmann said. “The cards produced by Metro had about a 50 percent failure rate.”
The failure of Georgetown’s program came after a three-year period that saw multiple obstacles to the program. The university could not agree with WMATA officials on a price for the card, and the program was again halted when the firm that manufactures the SmarTrip cards had previously trademarked the name “GOCard” for one of its brands of fare cards.
Nick Troiano (COL ’11), GUSA senator and liaison to the District of Columbia Metro University Student Alliance, said a successful test at American could mean the first step in achieving discount fares for university students. If a fare card already demonstrates that the rider is a student, it would be more feasible for Metro to program a discount into these cards, he said.
According to Troiano, and other representatives on DCMUSA, the alliance launched an effort two years ago to negotiate a reduced fare for student Metro riders.
“We met with some of the board members of Metro, and the Metro Advisory Council,” Troiano said. “It’s something that takes a lot of coordination on the university’s end. There have to be some resources put forth by all universities to make this work. If given a discount more students will ride, and it will be close to revenue neutral.”
American’s testing phase will continue through March 5, when MacCracken will seek a qualitative assessment from the cards’ test users. The assessment will center on how the cards stand up to the demands of typical usage, before expanding to a broader test program in March, he said.
Metro officials did not return calls for comment on the fare discount negotiations or the initiative to integrate GOCards with SmarTrip technology.