One reason bus trips take as long as they do, according to Metro, is that boarding—people swiping their fare cards or paying in cash—can account for “up to 25 percent” of the travel time along a route. That’s in part why Metro has been piloting a cash-free service model on an express route that runs from Maryland to downtown D.C. on Georgia Avenue since June.
The idea is to reduce additional travel time for riders by requiring the use of SmarTrip cards. Systemwide, cash payments on Metrobus take up roughly a quarter of the total amount of time that buses idle while passengers get on or off, the Washington Post has reported, even though only about one in ten Metrobus trips involve cash. Loading SmarTrip cards via cash on Metro buses can especially extend how long it takes for a given bus to complete a route.
Now, Metro is asking customers whether it should expand cash-free bus service beyond the 79 express route in the pilot program to several other express routes. In a release last week, the transit authority said it is “considering” cashless service on the following routes: 16Y, 37, 39, 59, A9, G9, J4, K9, S9, X9, REX, and Metroway—as well as future new limited-stop routes.
Riders who prefer to or have to use cash would still have the option of doing so on local bus routes, per Metro. “All of these routes are also served by local bus routes, all of which would continue to accept cash,” the release points out. Metro is accepting public feedback on the concept until Sept. 24, online or at a public hearing at its headquarters on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.
Metro’s board would then review and approve the comments in November. Metro says that before eliminating cash fares from any bus routes, it would also “conduct additional public outreach and a Title VI analysis,” one used to test for discrimination and required by federal regulators. The cash-free program on the 79 express route will continue through December.