07/05/2012 11:11 am ET

D.C. Metro $1 Fee For Paper Farecards Hits Tourists

WASHINGTON -- When tourists were in the nation's capital for the Fourth of July, they may have noticed a new unwelcome sign taped up to Metrorail farecard machines. The transit agency is now charging a $1 fee for each trip used with a paper farecard.

While the fee hits all riders using paper farecards, it impacts tourists in particular since they are less likely to have an electronic Smartrip farecard which offers discounts on public transit.

Why the new fee? It's part of Metro's new fare structure that went into effect July 1.

Roughly 80 percent of Metrorail trips are paid for using SmarTrip, according to the transit agency, which has been encouraging all riders to abandon the paper farecard in favor of electronic payment.

All Metrorail riders, regardless of payment method, are paying more to ride the system, approved earlier this year as part of the transit agency's new budget.

But figuring out how much you need to pay for your ride remains a confusing endeavor since Metro charges by distance traveled and the time of day traveled -- not with a flat rate.

As Greater Greater Washington wrote last week, the fare tables on farecard machines "could create significant confusion" for tourists:

Vistors and infrequent riders, who need to look up their fare for a specific trip, are the ones most likely to use the tables. Since these riders are more likely to use a paper farecard, it makes more sense to list the paper farecard fares and have a note that you save $1 by using a SmarTrip card.

With the fare table Metro chose, a customer that doesn't notice the note would buy a card with the fare listed on the table, get to the destination, then get frustrated when they realize their farecard doesn't have enough to pay for the trip. The exit fare machines don't take credit cards, so customers that don't carry cash could end up stuck (or station agents will let them out without paying).

The Washington Post advises local residents expecting visitors to purchase extra SmarTrip cards so they can avoid the $1 surcharge.