How do students who lose SmarTrip cards get to school? DC council member seeks solutions

At-large D.C. Council member Robert White learned last month that an eighth grade student was facing a dilemma at a Metro station because she lost her SmarTrip transit card issued through the city’s Kids Ride Free program.

The student, White wrote in a letter, returned to school and was able to use a staff member’s phone to arrange transportation. The Metro station manager also agreed to let the girl ride for free while awaiting a new card, White said.

But recognizing every situation may not end that way, the scenario prompted White to write a letter to D.C. Department of Transportation Interim Director Everett Lott, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, urging the city to develop a plan for how to address scenarios in which kids either forget or lose the cards.

White is urging the three leaders to propose solutions by Nov. 1.

“A station manager or bus driver should not be put in a position to choose between breaking a WMATA or DDOT policy to let a child ride public transportation versus leaving a child to figure out how to get to school or home on their own,” White wrote.

The Kids Ride Free program, which Mayor Muriel Bowser established, enables students to ride Metrobus, Metro and the DC Circulator for free for travel within the city. Students are required to live in D.C., be between ages 5 and 21, and be enrolled in a city school to be eligible.

On the program’s website, DDOT says the process for obtaining a new card involves requesting one from a school administrator. White wrote the current policy requires students who lose or forget their cards to pay the regular fare.

In an emailed statement, a Metro spokeswoman said the agency received White’s letter.

“Metro works closely with DCPS and DDOT to ensure students have safe, reliable transportation to and from school through the Kids Ride Free Program,” the statement said.

White also described his own experience with the transportation system, noting he took Metrobus to school regularly. He said he often lost his farecard and bus tokens.

“We did not have means to immediately replace lost cards, so whether I walked a long and dangerous route home or not depended upon the bus driver,” White wrote.

White said students may not have other transportation to school while they wait for a new card: “I hope you share the desire to develop a policy to keep our young people safe and able to get to and from school, regardless of the financial means of their families.”

The full letter is available online.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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