Monday, August 24, 2009

The CharmCard is Here...Almost

(image credit,

Baltimore's smart card has a name, the CharmCard!

Riders can sign up to participate in a 60-day field test of the CharmCard on the Metro Subway between October 1st and November 30th to test the new system. Eventually riders can use this on the Light Rail and the Bus in Baltimore, as well as the WMATA system in DC.

This is a long time coming, but it is finally here! Riders will be able to load cash value onto the card or passes; day, weekly, monthly. Enabling for a smoother and quicker fare paying process.

Having thought about this for a while, there are a few issues that I am wondering how the CharmCard will address.

- How will this work on the Light Rail? There aren't fare gates at the stations, and the Light Rail works as a proof-of-payment system. Will the fare inspectors carry portable card readers? Maybe they could add card readers onto the trains so that CharmCard uses can tap-in and tap-out when they get on and off.

- Will this eventually be able to work on the MARC? If the solution to issue #1 is portable card readers, then maybe it will one day.

- If you can have cash value on the card, and you ride the subway multiple times in a day, will CharmCard keep charging you $1.60 every ride, thus racking up the fares, or will it register you as if you had a Day Pass and just charge you $3.50?

-Follow up to Issue #3. If you have both cash and day passes on your card, will it know the difference? i.e. will it only charge you $1.60 if you do a single trip. If so, I guess that answers the previous issue.

- Will the Ticket Vending Machines ever be debit/credit card friendly? CharmCard can take up to $200, but you don't see me carrying around that much money in Baltimore.

- Will the CharmCard be able to be reloaded or bought on in the future? This will save riders even more time, so they can load up before they even leave their house.

We'll see how this works. This is a true positive for Baltimore public transit. I'm guessing after the 60-day field test there will be a review period for sometime, probably with a full release sometime in early 2010.


  1. You asked some valid questions. The smartip card that's in the tri-state can be used on the metro now, that's what use. I have a disablity card and when i get on the bus I'm charged 55 cents and when i get on another bus I'm charged 65 cents and information has been embeded into the chip to convert into a day pass. The same happens when you get on the subway. If you try hitting the pass more than once on the bus if the driver didn't see you, it will say passback letting the driver know you tapped the farebox. As far as the lightrail and possibly marc train I been wondering about that myself but haven't heard anything about it yet.

  2. I've noticed that many buses in Baltimore have broken or jammed ticket machines.
    When I get on the bus the driver is just waiving everyone on.

    I ride the bus to and from work downtown every day, and on average, maybe 25% of my one-way trips are free, due to these broken machines.
    Due to this fact, I've never bought a monthly card, and will not buy a charmcard; when I do the math, the high probability that I'll get a free ride eliminates the value from a stored value card.

    These broken meters are a problem which probably costs the city many thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars monthly.

    Anyone else noticed this?

  3. Yes, anonymous, but it doesn't seem to be inportant as it continues to happen. My dad rides the 36 daily to and fro work and brags how he will NEVER buy a monthly or weekly b/c he rides free nearly half the time.

  4. the London oyster card can be used for single trips and for day passes; it keeps track during the day so you'll never be charged more than a day's pass rate. So if day pass is 3.50, you'd be charged 3.50 rather than 4.80 for three rides.

  5. MARC is owned by MTA, but operated and managed by Amtrak; all tickets are AMTRAK tickets, so I think this won't be part of the CharmCard/SmarTrip system.