Metro, DC dealing out SmarTrip cards next year for Kids Ride Free program

WASHINGTON — After regular complaints from parents about technical difficulties, among other concerns, Metro and the D.C. government are making significant changes next school year to D.C.’s Kids Ride Free program.

Starting in the fall, Metro plans to distribute SmarTrip cards preloaded with an unlimited ride pass covering the length of the school year, rather than relying on the DC One school identification card that has contributed to some of the program’s issues.

Metro hopes the use of SmarTrip cards will eliminate the idea that students can simply flash a card to board a train or bus rather than tap in and out. The changes are part of broader efforts to reduce fare disputes and increase compliance with the fare system.

“Key program challenges include complex fulfillment process, low compliance with students ‘flashing’ their cards or not using them at all, and geographic restrictions that result in negative balances. The lack of tapping also makes it difficult to determine actual student participation or ridership,” said documents prepared for the Metro Board.

The District pays for students to ride the system for free, and 28 percent more students — about 32,000 — properly participated in the program this school year compared with last year, Metro said.

Metro estimates that 60 percent of those students tapped in and out on their trips, nearly double the estimate for the previous year. During the 2015-2016 school year, Metro estimated, students simply walked around fare gates 3.8 million times.

About two-thirds of the trips taken using the passes are on buses, with the remaining one-third utilizing the rail system.

The changes would eliminate restrictions on where students can ride using the passes.

The District will continue to pay Metro $1 per day for each eligible student next school year, but would only pay for those students who actually get a SmarTrip card as part of the program.

In the current school year, the District paid Metro $19.2 million when including additional fees that some students must pay to upgrade passes. Metro estimates the District would pay a minimum of $12.1 million next school year.

Metro plans to charge families $4 for any replacement cards. The District is sill negotiating the details.

Metro will be separately reimbursed by the District for any costs incurred as part of SmarTrip distribution and outreach tied to the program. 

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