News Bullets, feels like April Monday;

Any readers check out Nerd Nite at DC9 on Saturday? It got written up pretty much everywhere in the world on Friday, including the Post, WTOP, WJLA, and elsewhere. The event, which invited three speakers to talk about science-y type stuff took over the upstairs of DC9 from 7 until 10 Saturday night. The event was sold out in advance, and packed to the gills. Speakers talked about neuroscience, the history of graveyards and volcanoes. A DC band, the Torches, played a short set between each speaker.

It was interesting, in so much that you could go to a bar, and hear people talk some smart talk. However, the fact still remained that you were packed into a very crowded room standing for about 3 hours listening to lectures. The volcano one was obviously the best, as the speaker gave a demo of the good old fashioned baking soda and vinegar eruption.

Only in DC, however, would an event like this get the full every media outlet treatment. I had a hard time figuring out if the audience was even having a good time, many seemed uncomfortable and really wanting to sit down.

Metro to do something with credit cards, journalists unable to figure out what. WTOP ran a piece this weekend discussing some sort of plan for Metro to do something with credit cards at the turnstile. This was the most confusing Metro piece I've ever read on WTOP, which is saying a lot because generally their stories are awful. Here's the full text:
WASHINGTON - Tired of fumbling for money to ride Metro trains and waiting in long lines for the farecard machines? Some high-tech help is on the way.

Metro Board member Peter Benjamin says they're working on changing the farecard turnstiles so they accept credit cards.

"We need to make it easier for our customers to ride the system. We are going to accept credit card and debit cards directly in the gates of our transit system."

Benjamin says you won't have to charge your credit or debit card for a farecard or a Smart Trip card to get on the train.

"Actually it'll be the target to use for a Smart Trip card will work on your credit card and we are working with banks right now on this."

The new system could be in place within the next year to 18 months.

I'm guessing this refers to those RFID credit and debit cards that no one actually uses? You know how for a while places like CVS would have that "PayPass" attachment on the signature/PIN pad? I remember about seven years ago Metro talking about a Citibank credit card that would have a Smartrip built into it. Did that ever happen? Furthermore, I still am not sure what Peter Benjamin is talking about. RFID credit cards are not ubiquitous enough at all to justify adding that technology to the turnstile. Is this really what we'll get before we get the ability to add fare to our Smartrip cards online?

Speaking of Metro, the public meeting on the budget is this Wednesday. Wednesday will be a busy day for a lot of people, we have both the State of the Union Address and the Metro budget meeting. It's also OMG APPLE TABLET day to boot. If you want a primer on what's happening with the Metro budget, check out this piece over at GGW. At Catoe's pre-resignation meeting, he discussed some of these options, as well as the idea of having people at the budget meeting visualize the budget gap with stickers and other arts and crafts. It'd be cool if there was an online visualization of this, some transit agencies have pretty slick charts and graphs that you can manipulate to see what combination of cuts or fare hikes would be required to balance the budget. In any event, my own personal opinion supports capitalizing some of the system maintenance and raising fares. Despite the grumbles that Metro is expensive, short-distance fares are still very low compared to other systems, and long distance fares are on par or below similar distance trips on commuter rail in other cities. Metrobus fares at $1.25 ($1.35 cash) are also low. Honestly I wouldn't mind seeing a fare hike up to a $2 base fare for Metrorail and Metrobus, if it meant more money to provide better service and safety. This nonsense that even a $0.20 increase is "too much" is laughable. I don't mean to be callous to people who would be hit by a $0.40/day increase in cost, but I also don't expect to live in a fantasy land where transit can exist and the price will never go up.

Also in Metro news, the Federal government appointed a couple of board members. Look for some analysis of that this week. Here's the basics from the Examiner:
Mortimer L. Downey, a former New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority director and U.S. Department of Transportation deputy secretary, is expected to be sworn in Thursday as a director. Marcel Acosta, executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission, will serve as an alternate director.
These appointee spots were created over 10 months ago, and were not related to the aftermath of the 6/22 crash. Two more seats remain to be filled by Federal government appointees.

More overtime scandals, this time in DPW sez Examiner. Peter Nickles is again promising to get to the bottom of something, this time it's an overtime scandal involving trash collectors. First off, I've always found the city's trash collection practices to be fascinating. It has always seemed like 11 PM on a Sunday night is the busiest time for those big orange trucks. I can't tell you how many times I'd see those trucks doing stupid things on 14th Street in the middle of the night. I suppose it's much easier to be poor drivers in the middle of the night, even though I'm guessing they collect time and a half for working at 1 AM on a weekend. The Examiner obtained a draft of an audit report that shows alleged "blatant time and attendance fraud."
The draft audit accused supervisors of not paying close attention to the hours being doled out. It singled out a low-level staff assistant who was given broad authority over overtime, alleging she changed time and attendance sheets for her sister, her husband and another employee. The favored relatives and friends were given bogus credit for overtime, the audit found.

Ah, city work. Same old story, different names.

UPDATE: From the "duh" category, it appears as though the middle-of-the-night pickups are done because the trucks are busy during the day doing residential trash pickups. You see, I let assumptions about city government being inefficient and corrupt cloud my thinking! I don't know why this didn't even cross my mind. I suppose I thought they'd have enough resources to do both during normal hours. Whoops. Thanks to @mikedebonis for the heads-up.

Sadly that's it for this post, I'm off to a morning meeting at the real job. Enjoy this bizarre spring weather while it lasts.


  1. Yep, the Citibank credit/Smartrip card happened. I actually have one. Or rather, had one. Citi shut down the credit card part last year. Supposedly the Smartrip part still works, but I rarely ride Metro anymore and haven't had the opportunity to confirm if that's the case.

  2. @Anon,

    I'd be curious to see a picture of it... I know you might want to obscure your name or CC # (if it's closed maybe not such a big deal), but I've always been a bit curious what it looked like. Does it have a Smartrip logo on it? It it thicker than a normal CC?

  3. Same thickness as a regular credit card. Has a Smartrip logo at the top left on the front and a Metro logo at the top on the back. Otherwise just has some fine print about the card containing sensitive electronics and to not bend, perforate, etc.

    I was always disappointed that the two separate parts of the card were totally unlinked. You still had to tap the card on the fare machine, then slide it as a credit card, then tap it again to add the fare. Always seemed pretty stupid to me.

    Anyway, I'll try to remember to make a couple of scans when I get home today so you can see it for yourself if you're still interested.

  4. Yeah, I'd be curious to see it if you wouldn't mind.


    And yes, it does seem pretty pointless for them to not be linked together. Metro has been hoping to have credit cards linked to Smartrip for such a long time now, it's a bit ridiculous.