In the latest attempt to get Americans to give up their paper $1 bills in exchange for $1 coins, Metro is offering the use of the scoffed-at coinage in farecard vending machines.
Could mandatory berets and silly accents be next?
For years Americans have rejected the idea of $1 coins replacing paper bills and adapting to a more European way of life. Metro and the U.S. Mint hope they can change that one rider at a time.
"We are excited about collaborating with Metro to increase circulation of $1 coins," said U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy. "Once the public realizes the benefits of using $1 coins, we are confident they will be motivated to use them more often."
In the past, Metro farecard machines would only dispense quarters and nickels, meaning anyone who got more than a couple bucks back in change would end up weighing several pounds more by the time they stuffed all that coinage in their pockets. But no more, says Metro Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal.
"Now Metro riders have the convenience of carrying less change," she said.
Another reason for the change: The Mint says dollar coins are durable and "can save the nation billions of dollars," since a coin will last 30 to 40 years. That's longer than the average lifespan of a $1 bill.
Each farecard machine will be stocked with Presidential $1 coins, Sacagawea golden dollar coins and the new Native American $1 coins, scheduled for release in January 2009.
Of course, the new feature may have started off a bit rough last week, according to Sally Schwob, who sent several e-mails describing her first encounter with the new $1 coins.
"I had to use the Silver Spring Metro on Thursday 12/18/08. I had a $5 bill for the farecard machine and only needed a $4 fare card. It gave me 4 coins in change -- they looked odd but I put them in my purse and forgot all about it. Friday afternoon, I looked at the coins -- SOMEONE at metro had put $1 gold coins in the quarter change slot! WOW! I called Metro's main office Friday about 4:50 p.m. After explaining the situation, she put me through to a Red Line "customer service." No one answered so I left a message, "You are losing money, yada yada yada."
Sally said she eventually called the Metro Transit Police, who said they were sending the "coin machine people" out that night.
"Let's say all 8-9 machines got loaded with $1 coins instead of quarters," she said. "Let's say they each hold $100 worth of quarters but now have $1 coins? Wow."