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Swipe a ride on the MTA

Commuters catching most buses and trains in Baltimore can stop scrambling for exact change.

The Maryland Transit Administration will start selling CharmCards on Tuesday. The reusable fare cards can be stocked with money and passes, and swiped at fare boxes, gates and ticket vending machines for easier access on to most of the MTA’s lines.

The card, which will cost $2.50 up front, could spur more transit ridership and make bus and train lines run more smoothly, transportation officials and advocates said.

“It puts us on par with some of the major transit systems throughout the country,” said Nate Payer, vice president of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore.

Payer, a city resident, said he will buy a card and might ride buses and trains more often because of the convenience the card provides.

“Any little thing will impede people from taking transit if they don’t have to,” he said. “There’s already enough incentives to avoid transit in Baltimore as it is.”

The CharmCard program, for all its Baltimore roots — the MTA’s publicity campaign has featured ads featuring Hons and pink flamingos — could forge stronger transit ties to Washington. CharmCards will work anywhere that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s SmartTrip cards are accepted.

“I think the really big news here is that finally integrates public transportation with the Greater Washington area,” said MTA spokesman Terry Owens. “Wherever the Smart Trip card is used, you can now use the CharmCard, and vice versa.”

CharmCards will be accepted on subway, light rail and local bus lines run by the MTA, but not on MARC trains or commuter bus lines that run between Baltimore and the suburbs.

The MTA will sell CharmCards from its transit store on St. Paul Street and at vending machines in select CVS and Giant Food stores around the region. The full list is available at

Commuters can load day, week or month passes, and up to $200 in cash value on to their cards, and register cards with the MTA to retain their value if the cards are lost.

“The cards definitely going to help people do a better job of keep track of their cash value and your passes,” Owens said. “If you lose this thing, whereas in the past you were out of luck … it can be replaced with the value still intact.”

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has sold SmartTrip cards since May 1999, when they could only be used on Metro’s subway lines and parking lots. SmartTrip was extended to all bus lines by August 2004, and is accepted by regional bus services in suburban Washington.

Three-quarters of Metro rail riders and 60 percent of bus riders use SmartTrip, WMATA spokeswoman Angela Gates said. And despite recent fare increase for Metro riders, SmartTrip fares are still discounted. An MTA spokeswoman said CharmCard users will be charged regular fares.

“The benefit to us is that it speeds up the time that they go through the fare gate or get on a bus,” Gates said. “It’s a fraction of a second when you just tap a card and move on. It helps improve reliability and on-time performance.”