Monday's Washington Post Article about Smartrip led me to the WMATA Inspector General's report on the subject. I wish I had found this about 7 months ago when it was released, it would have saved me some frustrating phone calls with WMATA staff and the press office.
First, what happened? From the look of the audit report and the Post article, WMATA contracted with Cubic in 2003 to provide system upgrades for Smartrip by early 2005. The contract "required Cubic to make the necessary modifications to WMATA's existing rail and parking software systems to assure compatibility with the systems of regional partners". The problem was, the regional partners were using much more modern software than WMATA, and Cubic informed WMATA that upgrading old software would not be supported. This was only two months after the contract was signed. Cubic offered a system upgrade to a more flexible system, then waited for WMATA to make a decision. WMATA delayed making a decision for years, eventually paying Cubic $24M with contract changes.
WMATA was supposed to get new Smartrip point of sale hardware, and upgrades to the Smartrip fare collection software. The upgrades were to include the ability to load up to 256 different types of transit passes into the system, including passes compatible with multiple transit providers such as VRE and WMATA's Transit Link Pass. Additional features which were supposed to be delivered by 2005 were automatic reloading of cards, and an automated "hot card" list, which would allow WMATA to electronically cancel Smartrip cards that have been lost or stolen.
The contract did not include provisions for damages in the case of contractor delays. Delays in the Cubic contract cost WMATA an additional $1.4M in delay claims to a second contractor due to WMATA's inability to implement functionality of a regional customer service center.
WMATA is continuing to contract with Cubic for Smartrip support. The agenda (PDF) for the WMATA Board Meeting (public comment encouraged, Thursday at 11am) includes an item for a $2M per year consulting contract with Acumen Building Enterprise, Inc., for technical assistance to the Office of Smartrip. Acumen's Client list includes BART, San Francisco Muni, and other northern California transit agencies, as well as the US Navy and some municipal clients. What little information there is available on the website suggests that the contractor has at least performed similar work for other clients in the past.
It's disappointing that the same day WMATA declares that they will need $11B in new funding for system maintenance over the next 10 years, a news story breaks that shows that WMATA basically wasted $24M on a mismanaged contract.
Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC from Flickr