Latest First-Hand WMATA Fail: SMARTripoff cards!

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OK, technically second-hand; this story comes to us courtesy of the lovely Caroline.

How’s This for an Epic WMATA fail?

I’ll bullet it out for easy digestion:

  • The buses require you to pay either cash or a Smartrip card.
  • A discount is given when you use this card and a bigger one when you use the train/bus in combination. The expectation is that people don’t have to use cash. WMATA is incentivizing customers to use the card.
  • Some cards it turns out, are new and apparently also incompatible with some existing card reader terminals.
  • WMATA either released these cards into the wild knowing this, or didn’t bother to test.
  • WMATA has to update the terminals on buses individually to fix them.
  • WMATA has no idea which buses have the update yet and also somehow have no way to track them
  • WMATA says that in this situation, drivers are supposed to let people on for free. HOWEVER…
  • …WMATA has not informed its drivers formally of this situation and does not know which ones know about it and which ones don’t.
  • This a known issue to WMATA, and is known to affect all 20-digit cards beginning in 0167.

Let Me Count the Fails:

  • Technology Fail: Who doesn’t test card readers or firmware w/cards in the wild before they’re released? How could this problem ever exist?
  • Asset Management Fail: I know that WMATA uses enterprise-class asset management software (IBM Maximo) because I was at a seminar with them. Given this, how is it possible that it is unknown which buses have the card readers with issues and which ones don’t?
  • Business Fail: WMATA bills SMARTrip as the easy solution and goes to great lengths to build confidence about how it works. And yet, despite putting $20 on her card this morning, Caroline was almost unable to board the bus she needs to get to work. WMATA also asked Caroline to call in to report the issue on each bus it happens on so they could track it. How is that a customer’s responsibility?
  • Communication Fail: WMATA didn’t get out ahead of this one. They haven’t even informed their drivers, let alone their customers, that this might be an issue. How is there not a sign on every Metro bus and a direct number to call when this sort of thing happens, given that this is a known issue?
  • Customer Service Fail: While pleasant enough on the phone, the WMATA representative could not offer Caroline a solution. They asked her to call in and submit a support ticket with her bus number every time; however, they could not tell her what to do if a bus driver didn’t let her on when her card didn’t work despite her being a paying customer.

The moral of the story? If you take a bus in DC, never trust WMATA’s own service offerings, or you may find yourself without a ride.

Did you have an experience similar to this? Sound off in the comments!


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