Categories
Politics

Choose

I admit that I am privileged to be male, white, straight, of European descent, of Christian upbringing (though I now identify as apathetic agnostic), etc.—all things that permit me to not be a target of the hatred that emanates from Washington these days. I also admit that I take advantage of this privilege to stay largely quiet on the news, as I prioritize my own mental health over the desire to comment on and be active against said hatred. Today, however, I make an exception.

No matter which party you identify with (or don’t, or if you identify with “none of the above”) it’s okay if you don’t agree with everything that the likes of AOC or Ilhan Omar say. It’s okay if you think some of these “new deal” plans are socialist. It’s okay if you think criticizing Israeli actions in Palestine is a slippery slope. It’s okay if you think Nancy Pelosi is the wrong person to lead a party. All of these opinions are okay to believe. I think you’re wrong on some of them, but you’re entitled to your wrong opinion.

It’s not okay to say that because of what you say or believe, you must leave the country. Like it or not, nearly all of the targets of the President and his party are American citizens by birth, and are entitled to all of the rights that entails, including the right to speak their minds on whatever topic motivates them to do so. (Rep. Omar, while not born American, is a naturalized citizen and entitled to her rights on that basis.) There is no legal basis or precedent for anyone forfeiting the rights as a citizen simply because they said something that made the President or his enablers mad. For the President, and his lackeys in Congress, to say so is deeply racist, xenophobic, and hateful. Again, the President and other Republicans are American citizens; they have the right to believe these things, repugnant as they are. Whether or not the President of this nation should be a person who believes such hateful things and uses this hatred to attack and divide fellow Americans is a question for every American to decide for themself. (You should already know where I stand.)

And there’s the thing. How many people who call Trump a racist, AOC a socialist, Omar anti-semitic, Pelosi senile, etc. will go out next year and vote against them? Not enough. But that is how we deal with leaders who are unfit to lead in this country. At the ballot box. Not in the media. Not at mob-like rallies. Not on Twitter or Facebook. With a ballot.

I didn’t vote for Trump. He won anyway. I, and the rest of us, have to live with that. But not forever. Remember these vicious attacks next year when you go to vote. I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but your choice comes down to reelecting the President, or not. If you vote to reelect, in my mind, you’re endorsing his racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and everything else about him. And while that is your right, I’m going to find it very hard to forgive you for that. In my mind, this is not about “the lesser of two evils.” This is about people making a conscious decision to end this dude or give him four more years to foment fear, uncertainty, doubt, hatred, and (yes) violence among the public. However extreme some of the positions of some of his opponents might be, I don’t think you can equate them at all when it comes to whether they are a net positive to America as a nation and a society. Every politician today, the President included, is a package deal. You can’t ignore the rhetoric, or the positions you don’t like, just because you think they have good points. You are voting for everything about your chosen candidate, like it or not. Choose wisely, and choose the candidate who, in your opinion, best balances the positive with the negative. No one is neutral or unbiased in this race.

And don’t pretend you’re not to blame for the bad actions of whoever wins. We are all to blame. Those who voted for the bad actor are to blame because of how they voted. Those who didn’t vote at all, but were able to, are to blame because they shirked their responsibility as Americans. The rest of us are to blame because we didn’t work hard enough to dissuade others from voting for a bad actor. We can argue (though I’d rather not) over who holds the most blame, but none of us are off the hook.

We all hold some responsibility for the actions of the President since 2017. We will all hold responsibility for the results of the next election and whether they mean a new direction, or four years of doubling down on this term. If you agree with me that the President is a force of evil, vote him out. If you disagree and think he’s doing the right thing, reelect him. Either way, we all own the result. Choose wisely.

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.
- Carl Sandburg
Categories
Soccer

Closing Time

Yesterday, DC United played their final match at RFK Stadium. For the first time since it opened in 1961 as DC Stadium, RFK has no tenants. United is moving to Audi Field in Southwest next year, and threw a big “Last Call at RFK” party to mark the end of this era.

The less said about the actual game, the better. United started strong, but folded late, and with some help from the officials, the New Jersey Red Bulls headed home with the win. They’re off to the playoffs, where they will certainly fail as they always do. United, on the other hand, finishes dead last in the Eastern Conference, and tied (on points) for dead last in the league with the LA Galaxy, another historically great team which had a historically bad year. (United did win one more match than the Galaxy, so we escape the Wooden Spoon on that tiebreaker.)

RFK was a lot of things for a lot of people. For those who were longtime, hardcore supporters of United or the local NFL franchise that once played there, RFK was home for several weekends a year. Tailgates in the parking lot were always epic. Friendships, partnerships, even marriages were born of the time spent there.

For me? It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been a season ticket holder, but I’ve been around since almost the beginning for United, going to a few games a year. Back in 2015, when I decided to take my love of soccer up a level, I found the Screaming Eagles and American Outlaws DC, and instantly had a crew to hang with. Most of my tailgate time was spent in the beer tent, checking IDs and sampling some of the fine craft brews along the way. Inside the stadium, I sang and clapped and drummed and even capo’d a few times. And I helped make some great tifo, including one (for a US men’s national team match against New Zealand) that was seen on ESPN, which I consider a major accomplishment considering it had nothing to do with Lavar Ball.

Beyond the last few years, I had fun with the Nationals for the first three years before they moved across town (just blocks away from Audi Field, coincidentally – or not.) They were awful for those first couple seasons, but I could say I was there when it mattered. I was never a fan of the local NFL franchise, so I didn’t see them there, but I made it to a few concerts, most recently the Foo Fighters’ 20th anniversary extravaganza on July 4, 2015.

RFK is one of the last relics of the “multipurpose” stadium era. One by one, the stadiums that were built to house both baseball and rectangular-field sports have fallen. RFK might not have made it this long if the quest for a new United stadium had not taken as long as it did. You could tell, by the end, that RFK was old. Chunks of paint, concrete, and who knows what else have fallen. A large number of seats are broken or just plain missing. It smells like everything you can imagine and some things you can’t. Towards the end, visiting fans would taunt us with a “RFK is falling down, falling down, falling down” chant, and we really had no response. You got us there.

As much of a dump as it was, it was our dump. It was a place where we could stand and sing and drum and wave flags and generally be inmates running an asylum. And that’s why the move to Audi Field is bittersweet for a lot of people. Yes, it’ll be new and shiny and clean and we’ll get MLS All-Star Games and national team matches and other things that might have passed the grubby old RFK by. But we won’t be able to do all the things we did at RFK in the pristine new place. Between all the excitement and passion of last night were some public displays of frustration and anger. Smoke bombs are a no-no at RFK these days, but many were deployed. There were disputes and altercations with security. As the game slipped away, the bad mojo took over for lots of people.

Many of those people won’t be following the team to their new home. I understand. For a certain class of long-time, devoted supporter, what has come out (and, perhaps more importantly, what has not come out) from the team about next year has been not just discouraging, but seems almost hostile. It’s as if the team wants the passion, but wants it to be well-behaved. Some of us are OK with that; some of us clearly aren’t. For my part, I’m waiting and seeing. Next year is just too hard to know right now. Maybe it will be fun – not in the same way as it was at RFK, but in some new way to be determined. Maybe it won’t be fun any more. When it stops being fun, I’ll stop going. Until then, I’ll give the new place a chance.

Between today and the opening of Audi Field around the middle of next season, the team will be nomadic, playing a lot of road games. The supporters will follow them to some, and gather on their own for the others. At some point next year, the new place will open and we’ll get to see what the future is. But for now, we get to remember the past, and what a past it was. A club that won 13 major trophies, both national and international. A stadium that hosted 24 wins for our national soccer teams, and hosted matches for two World Cups. And that’s just the soccer. It’s been a great run for RFK. Remember it fondly, and I’ll see you next year, wherever it is we meet again.

Categories
Transit

The Breaking Point

My first experience with Metro was in the late 70s, when my grandparents lived in Arlington, VA. The first ride I remember was getting on the Blue line at Rosslyn and riding over to Smithsonian to go to my favorite museum, Air and Space. Several years later, I remember parking at East Falls Church, which wasn’t open for train service yet, and getting on at Ballston to do more or less the same trip. (We must have gotten a bus from EFC, but I don’t remember that.)

I moved to Arlington after college and started riding Metro every day to my job in Bethesda. By now, it was 1996, and everyone still loved Metro. We could point to how it was clean and didn’t smell bad, unlike New York or Philly or other places. Trains ran on time and didn’t break down often. Later in 1996 I left that job in Bethesda and got one in Greenbelt, but in those days the Green line wasn’t complete, and it was easier to drive. I still rode Metro when I needed to get downtown for some reason. It beat driving and parking in the District by a long shot. For the next almost two decades, I didn’t ride Metro to work often. (I did ride MARC and MTA light rail when I worked in Towson.)

Fast-forward to 2015. I’ve left TeamSnap, where I worked at home and thus had no need for any commuting option. My next job was downtown, and I started riding Metro every day again. And that’s when I started to see what people who had been riding every day since the early 2010s were seeing. Trains didn’t run on time, and broke down much more often. Track issues were frequent and disruptive. Even station infrastructure broke down; Dupont Circle, right underneath my workplace, lost cooling and became unbearably hot at times.

I’ve always been a fan of mass transit. I prefer not to drive if I can avoid it; I’ve tamped down my road rage a lot in recent years, but there’s still a Mr. Hyde that lives inside my usual Dr. Jekyll. Even if I’m stuck in traffic on a bus, it’s not me that has to negotiate the road. If there’s a way to get around a city using trains or buses or anything other than me driving a car, I’ll find it and use it.

The past few years have been especially shitty. By now, everyone knows about SafeTrack and how it shut down entire sections of the system for weeks, even up to a month at a time. Greenbelt, where I live, was cut off from the rest of the system for four weeks, even after College Park, the next stop down, reopened after two weeks of SafeTrack. Even before SafeTrack, Greenbelt was frequently closed or single-tracked in evenings and weekends while a test track for the 7000-series cars was built. Everyone who rides Metro has suffered, but Greenbelters have suffered more than most.

And then, once Metro finished their year of SafeTrack closures, they have the gall to make customers pay, both literally and figuratively, for their failure to keep the system in good repair. Services were cut, hours of service shortened, and fares were raised. In particular, the Yellow line rush hour service to Greenbelt was eliminated, drastically cutting rush hour service and causing the same number of commuters to squeeze into fewer cars.

And after all this, Metro tries to make things right by piping in elevator music at stations and handing out coupons for McDonald’s coffee as a “thank you” for suffering through their ineptitude.

I’ve been a booster of Metro for a long time, but I’m done. I’m not interested in paying for Metro’s inability to get the funding they need from the local and federal governments. I’m not willing to get crushed in my train home because they somehow think removing trains from my line is a good idea. And I’m sure as hell not going to forgive what they’ve done to their customers in exchange for a cup of crap Mickey D’s coffee.

I’m not driving to work (I don’t need that stress) but I’m not riding Metro if I can avoid it. I’ll find another way into downtown. MARC isn’t perfect, but I’ve had mostly good experiences. My office isn’t so far from Union Station, so I could walk, or get a bus, or, if MARC ever follows through on their plans to put bike cars on weekday trains, bike from Union Station to work, where we have a bike room and, soon, a shower. Maybe, if I get really motivated and into better shape, I could bike all the way to work, but that would take over an hour. I’ll figure it out soon enough.

I’m done apologizing for Metro. Metro’s customers didn’t take it to the point of no return. It was Metro itself, and the governments that refused to adequately fund Metro, that caused the shitty state Metro is in. And I absolutely refuse to be part of Metro’s collective punishment of its customers. If Metro returns to pre-SafeTrack service levels, frequency, and fares, I’ll reconsider. Until then, it’s my transportation of last resort, even below driving, and nothing more.

Categories
Transit

A Streetcar Named Misfire

The DC Streetcar project has been an ongoing boondoggle for a long time, but it may finally be coming to something close to an end. The system will open for business on February 27, or at least something close to “for business.” In what appears to be a rush to get the streetcar running before some arbitrary date, a few unfortunate choices have been made.

  • The car barn at Spingarn High School isn’t ready. I suppose DDOT has had some way of maintaining the cars during the test runs that have been going on for the last year or two, but that was under non-revenue service. With all of the cars running and carrying passengers, maintenance becomes more critical to safety and performance. I hope they’ve figured out what to do in the interim.
  • There will be no Sunday service at launch; it “may be phased in at a later date.” This reeks of cost-cutting, and is unfriendly to customers, as well as the businesses along H Street that have moved in anticipating the streetcar – now they’ll only get its benefits six days out of the week. (Update: Sunday service started on September 18. Great job!)
  • The biggest problem is that the streetcar, when it does start charging fares (it’s free for a limited time) will not accept SmarTrip. The justification is that Metro is planning to move on from SmarTrip… some day. The contactless payment pilot last year reportedly did not go well, and given Metro’s current sorry state of business and operational affairs, I wouldn’t expect them to move forward with this plan any time soon. Yet DDOT has decided to trust Metro to get things done, and rejected the single form of fare payment that is otherwise almost universally accepted across this region. It’s unfortunate, and could be a shot-in-the-foot decision.

As I said in the opening, this looks like a decision to just launch some kind of service with what’s ready now in order to meet some self-decided deadline or keep some promise to someone, not a ready-for-prime-time opening. How hard would it have been to keep at least some Sunday service? Or to get a few of the handheld SmarTrip readers that MTA light rail ticket inspectors carry?

I suppose after the perpetual “Charlie Brown and the football” situation that has dogged the streetcar for years, this is still some kind of progress, but it still feels like Lucy yanked the ball away again. This is no way to run a customer-friendly, sustainable business.

Categories
Work

Gratitude

By now, just about everyone’s heard of the DevOps virtues of Culture, Automation, Measurement, and Sharing, or CAMS. (Some also add Lean in there to make CALMS, or CLAMS if you’re into seafood.) While it doesn’t make for a snappy acronym, I think we should add one more virtue: Gratitude.

Whatever you do with your life, there’s something in your life to be thankful for. For those of us who’ve been working in the DevOps fields for a long time, there’s a lot to be thankful for right now. We have skills that are in demand. Cloud computing has, for many of us, made our tasks much simpler and eliminated those dreaded treks to the data center. Automation and the infrastructure-as-code concept have brought discipline, agility and flexibility to our stacks. The DevOps movement has broken down the walls that kept people separated from each other instead of working together towards common goals. These are all things that have made my life better as a long-time system administrator and developer, and I’m grateful for them all. My late father was a sysadmin in the days of big iron and dedicated systems, and in his retirement was always impressed with what we can do today compared to the rigors and limitations of the old school. When you can do something better than your dad, that’s definitely something to be thankful for.

Beyond gratitude for the current state of our industry, and the bright future ahead, we should be grateful for the real heart of the industry: the people. If I have taken nothing else away from the DevOps community, it is that the community itself is the greatest thing about DevOps. Not the philosophy; not the culture in action; not the tools that tool-vendors are lazily labeling as “DevOps” tools; but the people who are out there doing great things, and talking about them, and sharing their playbooks, and helping others do great things as well. You see it in events like DevOpsDays and Monitorama, in publications like The Phoenix Project and the DevOps Weekly, and in the meetups and other gatherings of like-minded people looking to connect.

And while the people putting on conferences need to pay the bills, and the authors of books would love if you bought a copy, for the most part, they’re not in it for the money. They’re in it as a way of saying “thank you” to the community that helped them get where they are, and to likewise help you get where you’re going as well. Is it paying back, or paying forward? Both, if you ask me. Gratitude goes both ways – as an acknowledgement of what’s come before, and an encouragement of what’s to come.

If you’re doing great things with DevOps, take some time to express your gratitude to those who’ve helped you get there. And as you do great things, share them with the world and feel the gratitude of others. If you ask me, there’s no better feeling in the world than knowing that something you did made someone’s life better, and that’s what gratitude is all about. And, in the end, isn’t that what DevOps is all about, too?

Categories
Work

Work-Life Balance Necessarily Includes Life

I’ve just returned from a week in Colorado, meeting with my colleagues at TeamSnap. We do these company-wide meetings about twice a year, bringing in most (if not all) of the team from around the world to discuss business, collaborate on new ideas, and have fun doing so. (If this sounds a lot like what some other businesses call an “offsite”, you’re right. That word sounds a little odd to me given that around 3/4 of TeamSnap works remote, but maybe I’m overthinking things.) At this meeting, many people commented on the quality and humor of my writing for internal consumption. So I’m starting this new blog to share some of that style with the rest of the world. And I’ll start with a story about how we do things at TeamSnap.

The thing I like the most about working at TeamSnap is that when we say there is a “work-life balance”, we mean it. We understand that in order for people to do their best work, they need to have time to pursue their best life, too. We don’t do “overtime” here. You work until your job is done for the day, and then you sign off and go have some fun. If that means you only put in five hours one day, so be it. If that means you pull a few extra hours to get something done right, that’s great. What it doesn’t mean is that we want people stuck at their desks for eight hours a day and five days a week. You are, within reason, empowered to work when, where, and how you want at TeamSnap, as long as you are doing your job and delivering the expected results.

Andrew Berkowitz, who co-founded TeamSnap and is now our Chief Product Officer and Minister Of Culture, recently discussed this philosophy in terms of our vacation policy, or lack thereof. We do not have a fixed number of days off, and TeamSnap employees are encouraged to take time off when and where they want or need to. There are probably law-and-order-type HR managers who bristle at this idea, saying some people would take advantage of this policy to slack off, never show up for work, and not deliver. These managers are right, but our response is simple: we do our best not to hire this sort of person. To paraphrase Stan Lee, with great freedom comes great responsibility; we look for people who are good at managing their own time, who don’t need managers checking in with them daily to stay on task, and who can deliver what’s needed when it’s needed. The type of person who doesn’t show up and doesn’t deliver doesn’t fit in at TeamSnap any more than she or he would fit in elsewhere.

What this comes down to, in the end, is treating people like people, and specifically treating adults like adults. Too often in the world, we say that people come into our organizations as untrusted plebes, and must earn the trust and respect of the elders, or some such thing. At TeamSnap, if we’ve offered you a job, we implicitly trust you to do it and do it right. There is no inner sanctum, but if there was, you’d be welcomed into it on day one. This is how we’re able to do things like allow most of the company to work remotely, take as much time for life away from work as they need, and speak up whenever you feel the need, to whoever seems appropriate.

I’m not posting this to recruit for TeamSnap, but to challenge those of you in a position to influence your company’s culture. Why do you have the policies you do around things like paid time off? Do you believe that setting limits on responsible adults prevents the irresponsible ones from screwing up? Does one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch? What would really be the impact to your business if you let any of your “crucial” people take off whenever they like? Is one person that “crucial”, really? Isn’t that a lot of pressure?

Categories
Transit

Better Ticketing for MARC

Update: MARC fixed things in 2018. See the Postpostscript.

Getting tickets for MARC is a fairly confusing process. There are various ways to get a ticket, all of which have their own idiosyncracies about them:

  • At stations that have them, you can buy tickets from Amtrak ticket machines. This includes not only the stations that are also Amtrak stations (Union Station, New Carrollton, Penn Station, Rockville, etc.) but also some other stations that are not served by Amtrak (Camden Yards, Savage, etc.) These machines only accept credit/debit cards, not cash. Many stations do not have these machines.
  • If you’re boarding at a station that doesn’t have an Amtrak machine, you can buy a ticket on board. Conductors on board only accept cash, not credit/debit cards. Additionally, there is an extra charge for paying cash on board if you boarded at a station with an Amtrak machine.
  • You can buy tickets in person at local commuter stores, almost all of which are located in Virginia, where MARC offers no service. (2015 update: there will be a commuter store at the new Sarbanes Transit Center in Silver Spring, which opens next week. Huzzah!)
  • You can buy tickets in person at most Amtrak stations where MARC stops, if you can get there by some other means.
  • You can buy tickets in person at the MTA office in Baltimore, if you can get there (it’s in the William Donald Schaefer building.)
  • You can buy tickets by mail, if you are buying a weekly/monthly pass.

I live in Greenbelt, which has a MARC station with no machines and no ticket office. If I want to ride the train, and have not had the forethought to buy a ticket ahead of time, I must have cash on hand to buy a ticket on board. Otherwise, I need to find the nearest ticket office, which is in New Carrollton and a 45-minute bus ride away, or the second nearest, which is at Union Station and a 30-minute Metro ride away. Since I rarely carry cash any more, this becomes sub-optimal.

So I’ve been thinking recently about how MARC could improve this situation, short of putting Amtrak machines at all stops, which they seemingly do not want to do for whatever reason (or else they certainly would’ve done it by now.) Two approaches come to mind, both demonstrated by other commuter rail systems in the country.

The first approach would be to accept SmarTrip/CharmCard, as MTA does for local transit services. This is what Caltrain and Sounder do using the Clipper and Orca cards (the Bay Area and Puget Sound equivalents, respectively, of SmarTrip/CharmCard.) You tap a card reader when you board a train, and then tap again when you get off. The system calculates the appropriate fare and charges it to your card.

Advantages: There are lots of these cards in circulation; many people riding MARC already have one, and thus it would be one less thing to ask commuters to manage. MTA is set up to load commuter benefit funds onto these cards. SmarTrip/CharmCards are fairly easy to acquire these days, with machines in Metro stations, sales at Giant & CVS, etc.

Disadvantages: You have to remember to tap off. Caltrain handles this by deducting the maximum fare when you tap on, and then refunding some of it (assuming you’re not actually paying the maximum) when you tap off. MTA would have to do something similar. There would be some cost to MTA to install card readers at all the stations, as well as to give conductors the same card readers that light rail ticket inspectors currently carry. Unless MTA installs something like the light rail ticket machines at all stations, you’ll still need to load funds onto your card somewhere else, and if MTA can do that, why can’t they put Amtrak machines everywhere?

The second approach would be to have a smartphone app for purchasing electronic tickets. This is what the T does for commuter rail around Boston, and NJ Transit does for commuter rail in New Jersey. Amtrak also offers this across the system. Using these apps, you buy a ticket ahead of time, store it on the phone, and show it to a conductor when they do their ticket collection.

Advantages: Doesn’t require MTA to install any new equipment at stations. Lots of commuters have smartphones.

Disadvantages: Lots of commuters don’t have smartphones. Conductors need to be trained to recognize valid e-tickets and, depending on how strict you want to be, need to be equipped with handheld code readers to verify tickets (Amtrak does this; the T, as far as I can tell, usually does not.) Unless your e-ticket purchases are backed by an online account (they are for Amtrak and NJT, they aren’t for the T) you are screwed if you lose your phone. Cash purchases wouldn’t be possible. Loading benefit funds might be hard.

So neither of these approaches solves all the problems, but either one could work at least for the Greenbelt scenario. Greenbelt is a Metro station, so SmarTrip cards and reloads are readily available, and so the SmarTrip-based system is viable. I think I’d prefer that over the smartphone approach-having one card for all transit-related needs, and not needing to carry my phone (although I always do, anyway) seems like the best solution to me.

(Tangential to all of this is that SmarTrip/CharmCard’s days are numbered; eventually it’ll be replaced with a system based on contactless credit/debit cards and NFC, as is happening in Chicago and Philly. That’s a subject for another post, which I’ll probably write next year at this rate.)

Postscript

I wrote this article two years ago (as of the date I’m writing this sentence.) Nothing has changed for MARC in this department. (However, MARC does have new Bombardier bi-level rail cars, similar to those used on NJ Transit, so that’s nice.)

I neglected to consider a third approach, which is basically a combination of the first two: a smartphone app linked to a SmarTrip card. This is what Metra is going to do to join Ventra and thus make Ventra usable across Chicagoland transit. Metra had a page (which seems to be offline now) explaining why they didn’t go with my first approach above – basically, Metra has a lot of stations, and the cost to put tap-on/tap-off readers at each station would be prohibitive. In addition to allowing Metra tickets to be bought with Ventra, the app would also provide Ventra account management services and, eventually, permit you to use your NFC-equipped phone to pay CTA and Pace fares from your Ventra transit balance (as opposed to your credit/debit card balance, which you can do today – basically, it’d be like using your Ventra card without actually using the card.)

MARC has approximately 1/6 as many stations as Metra, so maybe the first approach wouldn’t be as cost-prohibitive for MARC. However, the current governor isn’t a fan of spending money on transit, so perhaps that’s irrelevant. Nonetheless, I like this idea of combining an existing smartcard infrastructure with an app. Perhaps WMATA and MTA can get together and come up with a plan, the humble narrator said, ignoring for the moment that MTA has to beg for money and WMATA has more problems than that Jay-Z song.

Postpostscript

It’s now 2018, and MTA has finally made some changes to the MARC ticket process. The first is that there are now MARC-specific ticket machines, which have been rolled out at more (but still not all) stations. All of these machines accept credit and debit cards via magstripe, EMV (chip) or NFC. Some machines also accept cash. This is a welcome step and I hope MTA gets around to putting these machines at all stations, since Greenbelt still doesn’t have one (but College Park, which is nearby and has more trains stopping there, does, so apparently the most-used stations are getting the machines first.)

The second is a new mobile app called CharmPass which allows you to buy tickets for not only MARC, but the Baltimore local services (bus, light rail, Metro subway) and commuter buses as well. You can buy either single trips or all the different types (as far as I know) of weekly and monthly passes. Apple Pay is accepted in the iOS app (I presume the Android app supports Google Pay, but I didn’t test that one) along with the traditional method of entering your card number. It’s made by Moovel, a division of Daimler that has made apps for a bunch of other transit agencies, and the app seems to work well enough.

CharmPass joins CharmCard as a means of buying MTA fares, but doesn’t replace it. Since a CharmCard is basically a WMATA SmarTrip card with different artwork, running on a system operated by WMATA, this gives MTA a system that doesn’t depend on the increasingly dysfunctional WMATA; should WMATA downsize itself into the ground as it appears intent on doing, MTA could continue using CharmPass and migrate its CharmCard customers over. Intentional or not, it’s a shrewd move. (CharmPass is presumably dependent on Moovel technology, so it depends on Moovel continuimg to be a going concern, but that seems to be a good bet at this time.)

The only slightly silly thing about CharmPass is using it on the Metro Subway. Because the turnstiles can’t recognize a CharmPass ticket, you have to show the pass to the station manager, who will print a paper ticket for you to insert in the turnstile. That seems wasteful, but I hope it’s a short-term solution; if MTA is serious about CharmPass, they should look into new turnstiles (and perhaps bus fareboxes) that can scan the barcode from the app.