WMATA will be lowering the price of SmarTrip Cards, which can be used for access to the Metro system and to ride MetroBus, beginning October 1, 2013 as a continued part of their effort to move away from old paper magnetic FareCards. SmarTrip cards will cost $2, down from their previous cost of $5. With this change, purchasing a SmarTrip card will be no more expensive than the surcharge from taking two trips using FareCards (at an extra $1 each).
Another significant change taking place is that the largest negative balance you can run will be $1.50, with a minimum entry balance of $1.30. This will make it easier to be unable to exit with current SmarTrip balance. If this occurs, you will be able to load additional money onto your card an an ExitFare machine (all of which now accept SmarTrip cards). Unfortunately, these machines are still cash only. If you do not have sufficient cash, see the statin manager, who can escort you to a regular FareMachine. For regular metro travelers, signing up for auto reload can help avoid any issues.
This change is one of a series of steps WMATA has taken over the past years. A previous $0.25 discount for using SmarTrip cards was replaced with the current $1.00 surcharge for using old magnetic FareCards. With this rate change, FareCards continue to lose any relative advantage over SmarTrip cards. WMATA has suggested that it may reach out to third parties to partner to create a system to access the system simply using a cell phone or credit/debit card.