ERICA WONG/THE HOYA Metro riders will be able to make payments using a mobile app at select metro stops beginning in January 2015.
Metro riders will be able to make payments using a mobile app at select metro stops beginning in January 2015.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the launch of a pilot program Sept. 9 that allows riders to make mobile payments. Although the pilot program will not officially begin until January 2015 and will only be available at select metro stops and bus routes, it could become the standard method of payment if the program proves successful.

A collaboration between Metro and Accenture, which creates high-performance technology for businesses, the program allows riders to pay for transit using near-field communication technology, which involves radio communication between mobile devices by tapping two devices together. With the app, riders can pay for their trips with specific smartphones, NFC-enabled watches, federal ID cards and various credit and debit cards, according to a WMATA press release. The metro app will be made possible with Apple’s release of the iPhone 6, which will be able to make mobile payments.

“[This] means new fare gates that can allow passengers to pay with Google Wallet, credit cards with chips, etc.,” WMATA spokesperson Caroline Laurin wrote in an email. “Once the technology has been tested to our satisfaction, we will begin introducing the technology across the system.”

Installation of the new fare gates will begin in October. Shady Grove, Eisenhower Avenue, Bethesda, Pentagon City, Pentagon, Ballston, Gallery Place (7th & F), Farragut West, Navy Yard and Suitland are the 10 metro stations selected for the launch along with six Metrobus routes. The pilot hopes to involve at least 2,000 riders.

“We plan on rolling out the pilot in the coming months in 10 of our Metrorail stations as well as on 37 buses and a small number of parking garages,” Laurin wrote. “This is just a pilot and will only impact the customers who are participating in the pilot.”

Some Georgetown students are hopeful about the increased accessibility provided by the program because they frequently use the metro to commute from campus to internships and jobs.

“I was constantly refilling my SmarTrip Card and missing trains to and from work to stand at a kiosk and refill my card,” Sara Margolis (COL ’16) wrote in an email. “It would be convenient to be able to refill my SmarTrip from my phone on my walk to work and save myself a few minutes and get on the first train.”

Eliza Dong (MSB ’15) agreed, adding that it would help save time in lines at popular metro stops.

“The lines at Rosslyn can be crazy,” Dong said. “And when I forget my metro card, it would be nice if I can just swipe through using my iPhone.”

Earlier this year, the WMATA announced that they will phase out paper farecards in favor of SmarTrip cards over the next 18 months. Michael Mischke (SFS ’16) said that he thought that the convenience of the SmarTrip card eliminated the need for an app.

“I intern three days a week, so I take the metro pretty frequently. I already have a refillable Metro card, which is very convenient. Since I can put a lot of money on the card I can go for long periods without refilling it, so I don’t really think about it,” Mischke said. “I don’t see any particular need for a metro app.”

If the pilot program is successful, WMATA plans on installing and replacing all old fare gates starting as early as 2017.

The metro system in Austin, Texas developed a similar app in November 2012 called Capital Metro, which allowed users to purchase fares from their smartphones.

“The replacement of outmoded technology is expected to result in faster, more reliable fare payment for thousands of riders each day as they travel through Metro’s rail, bus and parking systems,” WMATA wrote in a press release.

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