Thursday, March 21, 2013

Problems Adding to SmarTrip Online?

Photo: mr_t_in_dc; shop: Andrew

From Barbara:
I'm really frustrated with the SmarTrip adding-funds-online system. I've been having problems with it for the last 6 months and was wondering if this happens regularly to other people as well.

My husband and I are infrequent Metro users. We work in the same building and commute to work in DC from Arlington together by car. But every now and then, my husband has to work longer hours, and I take the Metro home. I use the Metro about 5-6 times a month for commuting--sometimes more, sometimes less. On top of that, we both use Metro about 3 or 4 times a month when we go to the city at night or on the weekends. We both have a SmarTrip card, plus two more cards at home for guests.

I started using the online system for adding funds when WMATA introduced it and never had any difficulties. Now, however, we've had problems loading the online-added funds onto our cards for about half a year.

First, it concerned only my husband's card. I would put the funds on there and, sometimes, the period between me adding them online and him loading them onto the card (at the station) would be a week or even longer.

At first, this wasn't a problem, but after a while it turned out that the amount I added online wouldn't be preloaded at the station (although it was added a few days beforehand), so what he did was adding a bit of cash at the machine, use the card for entry, use it for exit at the destination station and only then, while exiting, would the funds be loaded onto the card.

Now, this week, both our cards had this problem. I had added funds online on March 4. I didn't use my card before March 18, and when I did, I had to realize that there was still only 20 cents on my card, and the $50 I had added at the beginning of the month were nowhere to be seen. Same for my husband's card, which I had taken with me because of said problems - I wanted to see if the problem with his card persisted.

Well, as it turned out, it did and, on top of that, my card had the same problem now as well. Now, I had two SmarTrip cards, one with 20 cents on it and one with $1.10 - both of which had preloaded funds of $50 and $20 respectively, but I couldn't use them for riding because the funds wouldn't load, and I couldn't even go through the turnstile with them.

So, what I did was use my credit card to add $20 to my card (I didn't have any cash on me), entered Foggy Bottom, exited at Ballston and: voilĂ ! there were $68 on my card all of a sudden.

When I checked my husband's card at the vending machine, his $20 were there, too.

How does this happen?

I called SmarTrip, and they didn't have a plausible explanation: All I learned was that this could happen "with infrequent use of the card." What the heck does that mean? It shouldn't matter how frequently I use the card - it's my money on there, it's just not in my bank any longer, it's on their card!

Right now, I have the same problem with our two spare SmarTrip cards - we'll be having visitors for the next two weeks, and I filled our guest cards up for them. The funds are added to the two cards, it says online that they are not loaded yet onto the cards and are "pending" and need to be loaded by Apr 17.

Well, I added them on Monday morning and tried to load them onto the cards on Tuesday night. No such luck - the cards showed up empty. Now I'm trying again tonight (Wednesday), and if it doesn't work I need to call SmaTrip again, wait on hold, explain the situation, only to hear again that the cards haven't been used in a while and it's all my fault.

Well, my lesson learned from this is that I won't use the "add funds online" function any more and will go back to adding money at the vending machine. It's not really progress but I don't want to experience this to and fro between the turnstile and the vending machines and the constant wondering "will the money be there?" any more.

But what I'd really like to know is: Do you hear of this problem from others as well? Is this some kind of bug that is quite common? My coworkers and friends all use their cars for commuting, most of them don't even have a SmartTrip card, so I cannot ask around here.

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