The Invisible/Virtual Tunnel - Now Even More Invisible?

Farragut_tunnel_2_4If you're following my series of posts recommending immediate implementation of a "virtual tunnel" between the Farragut stations (1st post, 2nd post), you will be dismayed by this piece of news I read in the Washington Post yesterday: SmarTrip Upgrades Pushed to 2010.

As mentioned in my last post, in a conversation with a Metro employee, I was informed that the upgrades to the SmarTrip cards would include the capability to provide for many improved features, including these kinds of transfers (BTW - another potential tunnel that has been studied is between Metro Center and Gallery Place, which would also be a candidate for a virtual tunnel).

According to the Post, the software vendor, Cubic Transportation Systems, has missed deadlines and run over budgets and basically screwed this whole process up pretty badly. Dumbtrip
Evidently, Cubic has been WMATA's fare technology vendor for the entire history of the agency (and apparently has gotten fat and happy and stopped worrying about satisfying their client). Might be time to inject some competition.

Back to the point of these posts, though. Given this new delay (and who knows if deadlines will be missed again), I could probably dig the tunnel myself with a shovel and a pick before the software upgrades are completed. I'm of the understanding that the current SmarTrip cards and farecards can accommodate the minor software change to allow for the virtual tunnel to be implemented now. Why not ask Cubic to make this simple change as a small concession for their inability to deliver the other upgrades on time and on budget? I think Metro could and should request it. What do you say, Mr. Catoe? Or maybe the new SmarTrip card director, Cyndi Zieman, can take the initiative to get it done herself.

Stay tuned! I tested the transfer personally and will relate my experience in my next post.
(Shout out to Greater Greater Washington for picking up on my posts)

More of the Invisible Tunnel

Farragut_tunnel_2_4I'm pleased that my recent post about creating a virtual tunnel between the Farragut stations has gotten some notice, which may actually be helping to move this idea forward. Blogs that have picked it up include:

Greater Greater Washington

Beyond DC (19 comments on this one)

Chuck Coleman's Random Thoughts blog included an electronic communication he had with Shiva Pant, sitting in for John Catoe, on a lunchtime chat. Pant indicated that the electronic transfer is in the works.

I had a personal conversation with someone at Metro, too. He told me something similar: the SmarTrip software is being significantly upgraded to allow for a lot more functionality with the cards (evidently, SmarTrip cards aren't all that smart right now). The capability to do transfers like this is being included in the software upgrade, but it's at least 9 months out before that upgrade will go into place. He said that he had heard that Chris Zimmerman had inquired internally about it. I don't know if that was because of my communication with Mr. Zimmerman or not, but I'm glad that he's engaged.

However, and this is important, just because the SmarTrip upgrade will include the capability to do this transfer, doesn't mean it will go into effect at that time! My contact said that the "business side" of the system has to be addressed, too. . .and that could take six months. It may be necessary to amend the fare tariffs to include this change, and that requires public input and other meetings, etc.--which take time.

So Metro needs to get started on that part of the process now. Exwmata
That way, the "virtual tunnel" transfer can go into effect immediately upon the upgrade. Those of you who read this blog and have any contacts at Metro, please help out by checking to make sure the institutional infrastructure is prepared, too.

I read the fare tariff, and, in my opinion, I'm not sure any changes would actually be necessary. Currently, fares are determined by distance without any specific issues associated with transfers at L'Enfant or Metro Center or elsewhere. No fare tariffs would have to change if a physical tunnel were built between the stations. So I think one could interpret the tariff as already accommodating all transfers--whether they are through a physical tunnel or electronic tunnel shouldn't make any difference.

However, knowing bureaucracies like Metro, they'll figure out a way to make it a months' long process, so anything we can do to get that started should start now.

And a final soapbox. I believe that if Mr. Catoe directed staff to put this transfer in place now, it could get done in a matter of weeks. My contact said the current software is capable. Waiting for the upgrade is a convenient excuse. But every day that goes by costs Metro riders 30-100 hours of wasted time (my best guess) not to mention the lost opportunity of reduced congestion at Metro Center.