They swiped, and swiped, and swiped some more, but Metro riders just couldn't figure out how to get past those pesky gates with their SmarTrip cards Tuesday evening.
Their puzzlement led to backups, all because commuters couldn't do something so simple as touch their SmarTrip card the right way to the card reader -- a task they've no doubt done hundreds and thousands of times over the course of their commuting lives.
So what the heck happened? Metro upgraded its card reader system, of course. And the upgrade fundamentally changed the way we should use our SmarTrip cards. Commuters, however, were left in the dark on the change.
There were reports of problems at the Foggy Bottom and Farragut West stations, and NBC4 received reports of more problems at the Huntington station.
Metro said Tuesday that it upgraded its automated fare collection system that uses SmartTrip cards to a new system called NextFare. And this new system now requires more time to read the SmarTrip card. A quick pass will not work.
Rather than just quickly passing their SmartTrip cards over the target, riders will need to hold the card on the target until the faregate opens, Metro said Tuesday night.
"We didn't know that," one Metro rider said after experiencing the problems. "So, if we had known, we would have done that. But we didn't."
Additional time is required because more information will be communicated between the card and the target, which uses a low-power, short-distance radio frequency signal.
It makes sense, but Metro failed to alert the public in advance about the change on Tuesday, leaving many standing at the gates trying their darnedest to get in.
The reason for the change is to “increase the capability of the SmarTrip target, the machine mounted transponder that communicates with the SmarTrip cards carried by the customers”, said Steven Taubenkibel, Metro's public information officer.
This will allow for more cards to be used on the system and future enhancements.
But it also means more time spent at the gate trying to get in.
There did not seem to be problems Wednesday morning at Metro stations, leaving some to wonder if it will only be an issue during "peak of the peak" hours.
Metro's full explanation is below:
Last week, Metro’s Automated Fare Collection system was recently upgraded in the last week to the “NextFare” program, which is the next generation of fare collection software and hardware for our system. Part of this upgrade was to increase the capability of the SmarTrip target, the machine mounted transponder that communicates with the SmarTrip cards carried by the customers . This increased capability will allow us to implement additional passes, autoload (automatic replenishment), and other enhancements to the system.
The additional capability requires additional time for all of the information to be communicated between the card and the target. The communications between the SmarTrip card and the target is via a low power, short distance radio frequency signal. The card must be within range of the target to initiate and complete this communication. If the card is moved out of the short distance radio frequency signal from the target before all of the information has been exchanged, the communications sequence between the card and target must start over.
Customers may notice that if they quickly pass their card over the target, as they have become used to doing, the card or target may not receive all of the data and the transaction may not be completed as quickly as it was done in the past. Customers should touch their card to the target and hold it there until the faregate opens.
We are exploring ways to speed this processing of information and hope to have this in place in the near future.
Public Information Officer