Metro's Response to Latest "Invisible Tunnel" Query

The idea of a virtual tunnel between the two Farragut stations on Metrorail was the subject of several of my posts about two years ago (first, second, third, fourth). The idea is to allow passengers to exit one Farragut station and enter the other within a set period of time, counting the whole thing as a single trip rather than two trips.

Given that Metro is currently making significant changes to its fares, I suggested to Interim General Manager Sarles that now would be a good time to also incorporate this long overdue idea for several reasons:
  • Metro staff is already working on making many changes, so it would be more efficient to implement now than come back and make more changes later.

  • Many customers are understandably unhappy about fare increases. Implementing the invisible tunnel would provide a positive change in operations that would add convenience for some of your riders to help offset some of the negative PR that comes with fare increases.

  • It's a no-brainer: It decreases congestion at Metro Center, provides a speedier ride for some customers and has absolutely no downside whatsoever.
Mike Russo, Metro's Assistant Chief Engineer for Automatic Fare Collection Systems, told me that they support the idea, but it "will not be an easy programming effort" because of memory limitations in the faregates, but that they hope to "re-examin[e] the Farragut transfer concept later this year" after the current fare changes are done. Here is the complete text of his letter:
Dear Mr. Offutt:
Thank you for your June 20, 2010 email message to Richard Sarles, General Manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), regarding proposals to allow seamless transfers between Farragut North and Farragut West Metrorail stations. I have been asked to reply.
Metro is continuously seeking opportunities to improve the travel experience for customers. The proposal for transfers between the two Farragut Square stations is worthwhile and may well be implemented in the future, with appropriate upgrades to the existing system. As you may be aware, Metro has hired an outside contractor to implement the fare changes recently approved by the Board of Directors. Part of that contract is a requirement to deliver a fare system that can allow rail-to-rail transfers, a capability that should include the "seamless" transfer you envision between the Farragut Square stations, allowing customers to continue on their journey while being charged as if they never left the Metrorail system.
Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to test that specific functionality, and preliminary indications are that it will not be an easy programming effort. Among the many concerns we must address are the memory limitations of the faregates, since the fare tables that go with this transfer structure are quite large. This is not at all to suggest that the Farragut-to-Farragut transfer cannot be implemented in the future. The inclusion of that requirement in the contract is evidence that Metro intends to make the change because it would benefit both customers and the system. However, at the moment we are focusing all available resources on major, Board-mandated changes to the fare structure: adding "peak-of-the-peak" charges, implementing passes on Smartrip®, and meeting the IRS requirement on SmartBenefits® (separate benefits for parking and transit).
Any one of these goals would be challenging, but we must complete all three, plus minor adjustments, before a rapidly approaching deadline. We look forward to re-examining the Farragut transfer concept later this year, after we have had sufficient time to observe the latest fare changes in full operation and make any needed adjustments. We appreciate your inquiry and your patience as we work to implement a fare structure that is reliable and applied fairly for all customers.
Michael Russo Assistant Chief Engineer Automatic Fare Collection Systems
(cross posted on Greater Greater Washington)

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