Fares on the DC Metro are complex. Distance, time of day, various payment options, passes, tickets, cards make the getting of one place to another a real piece of work, and totally obscure to a newcomer.
When I got to the DC Metro station the fare machines were incomprehensible. After 5-10 minutes of trying to figure out what was going on I had to ask a polite Metro worker what option of fare type I should use and how to get the fare out of the machine. It took another 10 minutes to instruct me on the various fare options, payment methods, buttons, slots, rocker switches and gewgaws and then to operate the machine and get a ticket for my destination.
To get tickets for the family I had to find the stop from the list pick the correct price for the destination, (also differing fares for differing times), select the number of tickets, change the price per ticket, choose a payment method and pay. All this with buttons with hidden multi-functions and modes and long instructions. And this was only the one machine. There were other machines that handled another type of fare or maybe they were casino poker gambling machines or lotto machines, I never even asked or looked at them again once I mastered a single ritual for getting my fare. What is more, if you miscalculated or got off at another stop than the original ticket was set for you may have to pay more through machines before being allowed to leave the subway. A terrifying prospect, actually, every trip I took was carefully planned.
Once I learned how to get one type of fare out of the machine I never varied the many options, controls and slots for fear I would not get a ticket and I did not want another 10 minute lesson in fare-ology. It usually took about 2 minutes to get a ticket out of a machine and I also had to wait in line to use the fare machines for a while at some of the more crowded stations.
I was not impressed with the fare scheme of the Washington D.C. Metro, it was more difficult than the failing LRT fare system in Minneapolis.
At one Metro station on the Orange Line the fare machines did not take credit or debit cards, (lost network connections?,) and the error message was ambiguous which caused people to keep trying and failing and building up a line, I used cash for the fare after being suckered into the credit option and having to repeat the entire process to get tickets.
The DC Metro was clean, but almost every station had inoperable escalators or elevators. The system is very new compared to New York or Philadelphia and the basic building materials of the stations were very high quality but I think that the system is being starved for maintenance. I was there a week after the big June 2009 Red Line Metro crashed killed 9 and injured 70 people. The Metro system was operating slower than usual and with many manual operating procedures. The maintenance problems with ticket machines, escalators and elevators make me think that lack of maintenance of complex systems may be trouble in the future.
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