If you could essentially ride Metro for free anytime you wanted to, would you get back on trains and buses more?
A D.C. Council member is hoping his proposal — to give city residents $100 prepaid SmarTrip cards each month — pays off.
"It's actually more important than ever to reintroduce this bill and get this conversation going," said Ward 6 D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen.
Allen had actually introduced this proposal before the pandemic hit, and it had been gaining speed. Now he wants to get it rolling again.
"This helps get people back on the rail, and back on the bus," Allen said. "But it also does something for those essential workers that never left Metro in the first place, and they were probably putting a lot of money out of their pocket, as they were keeping the city running for so many other people.”
Allen said that even with the pandemic, the city is seeing strong revenue and recovery. This program would be paid for through budget surpluses, he said.
People would have to register to receive the farecards, reducing the risk that the cards would go unused by anyone who didn't need them.
"It's not a waste of any taxpayer dollars; it’s about you using it. So it helps make Metro more affordable," Allen said. "But the other thing it does is it makes Metro have to earn your money. So we are tackling affordability and improving more reliable service at the same time."
Some commuters who were out along H Street, near buses, streetcars and Metro, expressed their support.
"It's public transport; we already paying for it anyway – just let people use it," said one commuter, Samuel.
Another, Christian, said, "I think it would be pretty awesome for lower-income people who might struggle to pay for that kind of cost."
But not everyone is sold on the idea. Some say they have just become too comfortable with their cars.
"It's not going to sway me to switch from driving to taking the Metro," said commuter Courtney Watson. "So if they want to give out gas stipends ... wow, you are going the complete opposite direction."
Metro has struggled to gain riders back during the pandemic, especially on the rails. It could also help on that front.
The bill will now go to a larger D.C. Council hearing for debate.
Official say the cards could also be tracked to make sure no one requests one and then sells it.