Transit Benefit FAQs
- What are Transit Benefits?
- How Do I Get These Benefits?
- What are SmartBenefits®?
- Who Accepts Electronic SmartBenefits® for VRE tickets?
- Are There Differences between the VRE Vendors That I Should be Aware of?
- What Do I Need to Do to Use SmartBenefits® to Purchase VRE Tickets?
- What Else Do I Need to Know?
- Who Do I Talk to If I Have Problems with My SmartBenefits?
- Are There Other Options? Who Do I Talk to About Those?
- What is VRE Doing to Simplify the Process?
- What's happening to the paper SmartBenefits® Vouchers?
Electronic SmartBenefits® assigned to VRE must be used in the month they are applied for, or they will be lost. There is no rollover and no account services with most VRE Vendor locations, benefits assigned are on a strict "Use it or lose it" basis.
Benefits assigned to Springfield Commuter Store (Springfield), Coffee Club Cafe (VRE Woodbridge or VRE Quantico), Don's Depot (VRE Broad Run), Seven Eleven (VRE Leeland Road) and Seven Eleven (VRE Fredericksburg) are all "Use it or lose" on a monthly basis. There are no exceptions to this rule at these vendor locations, and there will be no refunds of unused benefits.
Please make your decision on which VRE vendor to apply your benefits with this in mind.
What are Transit Benefits?
Transit benefits are issued by an employer to their employees to assist them in purchasing transit fares for commuting purposes. Transit benefits come in a variety of forms depending on how the employer wishes to handle them. They can be checks, electronic SmartBenefits®, debit cards and can be employee funded (pre-tax or post-tax) or employer-funded.
To see what Transit Benefits your employer offers, speak with your Human Resources (or equivalent) department at your place of employment.
How Do I Get These Benefits?
Most employers will assist you in arranging your transit benefits as part of the hiring process. Only your employer can tell you what benefit options they offer, how they are managed/issued, and how to sign up for them.
What are SmartBenefits®?
SmartBenefits® is the region's most common form of transit benefit. It is a program managed and operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA better known as the operator of Metrorail and Metrobus. SmartBenefits® can be used towards a variety of transit fares, but is most easily used within the Metrorail system. SmartBenefits® can be downloaded directly onto a SmarTrip card to be used on Metrorail or select bus systems. SmartBenefits® can also exist as a virtual account which allows you to use the funds on systems that do not accept SmarTrip cards, like VRE.
Who Accepts Electronic SmartBenefits® for VRE tickets?
Currently, Electronic SmartBenefits® can be assigned to the following VRE vendor locations:
- Arlington Commuter Direct (Mail Order and Internet Sales)
- The Crystal City Commuter Store (near the Crystal City VRE Station)
- The Springfield Commuter Store (located in the Metro portion of the Franconia-Springfield Station)
- Coffee Club Cafe (located at the Woodbridge VRE Station)
- Coffee Club Cafe (located at the Quantico VRE Station)
- Don's Depot (located at the Broad Run VRE Station)
- 7-11 (Leeland Road)
- Fredericksburg 7-11
For details on the above, please visit our Vendor Locations Page
Are There Differences between the VRE Vendors That I Should be Aware of
Yes, currently there are.
Arlington Commuter Direct and their sister store, the Crystal City Commuter Store, have been accepting Electronic Smart Benefits for some time, and have different policies than the other VRE vendor locations. They also have a staff of customer service support to help you in creating your WMATA account and assigning your benefits to their locations. Finally, Commuter Direct offers an account service for your benefits, so once assigned, if you do not use them all, you can retain the unused portion for later use. Please contact CommuterDirect.com at 703-228-RIDE (7433) for additional details.
The Springfield Commuter Store manage electronic SmartBenefits internally. Passengers who wish to use their benefits at these two locations should contact them directly for instructions. Springfield Commuter Store can be reached at (703) 339-7200 for more details.
The other VRE Vendor options do not offer this added service. Passengers for those locations will need to handle assignment of benefit themselves (With help from the WMATA help line as needed at 202-962-1326, option 3), and must use their entire benefit amount at their time of purchase, or lose any unspent value.
Another difference is how the Vendors are listed in the WMATA Website. Since CommuterDirect.com, the Crystal City Commuter Store and Springfield Commuter Store handle fares for a number of different transit agencies, they are listed in the WMATA System under their own names. All other VRE vendor locations are listed in the WMATA System as "Virginia Railway Express - STATION", where Station is the name of the Station that vendor serves. "Virginia Railway Express - Woodbridge" is Coffee Club Cafe at Woodbridge Station, "Virginia Railway Express - Broad Run" is Don's Depot at Broad Run, etc.
What Do I Need to Do to Use SmartBenefits® to Purchase VRE Tickets?
- Purchase a SmarTrip® card. While electronic benefits used outside of the Metro system cannot be downloaded onto the SmarTrip® card, the card represents a unique ID number that is linked directly to your account.
- Register your SmarTrip card
- Create an account with WMATA or contact CommuterDirect.com. That account then is used to receive and manage your benefits each month. Do not download any funds to your SmarTrip® card if you plan to use your SmartBenefits® to purchase VRE tickets.
- Assign your benefits to an Electronic SmartBenefits® vendor.
- Once assigned, the amount of benefits you have assigned will be issued to VRE on the first of the month, for use that month.
- Go to the VRE vendor you assigned your benefits to, and purchase VRE tickets up to the amount you have assigned.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
For the most part, benefits assigned to a VRE vendor can only be used to buy VRE tickets, no change can be given for purchases that do not use up your entire benefits amount, and benefits are non-transferable. Passengers simply go to their vendor location, show a photo ID and their SmarTrip card for identification, and let the vendor know they assigned their Electronic SmartBenefits to them. The Vendor will look them up on their list of benefits recipients, and proceed to make the sale as normal.
Each month, your benefits will then be automatically assigned to the same vendor, unless you choose to change it (by making a change in your account on the WMATA website). Once the benefits have been assigned, and the change-date has passed (the 20th of the previous month, for the next month, i.e. June 20th for July Benefits), the assigned benefits become locked, and cannot be removed or changed. Once this occurs, there is nothing VRE can do to change or refund these benefits, either to you (the passenger) or your employer. You can use them to purchase tickets at that vendor, but no other benefits refunds can be provided.
Who Do I Talk to If I Have Problems with My SmartBenefits®?
Since Electronic SmartBenefits® are a WMATA managed system, VRE is limited in our ability to assist with your account. If you have questions regarding how to sign up for an account, how to assign benefits to selected vendors or to use your SmarTrip card (for non VRE use), or any other detail related to account use, WMATA is your best source for information. For a more detailed FAQ on WMATA SmartBenefits® and how they work, please see their SmartBenefits Page or call WMATA's SmartBenefits® Help Line at 202-962-1326, option 3.
For a detailed guide on how to allocate your benefits, please see the following WMATA guides:
- CommuterDirect.com and the Crystal City Commuter Store
- All other VRE Electronic SmartBenefits Accepting Vendors
In addition, if you are a CommuterDirect.com or Crystal City Commuter Store user, those vendors can help you with all stages of signup and benefits assignment as part of the services they provide. They can be reached at the Commuter Page or by phone at 703-228-RIDE (7433), Option 1.
For questions relating to VRE Vendors or use of assigned benefits at VRE Vendors, please feel free to contact the VRE offices at 703-684-1001 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are There Other Options? Who Do I Talk to About Those?
There are many other Transit Benefit Options that VRE accepts, from pre-paid debit cards of many different types/issuers, to transit checks such as TransBen Checks or Commuter Check.
If your employer uses these options, please feel free to contact the VRE office at 703-684-1001 to inquire whether VRE accepts that form of payment, and we'll be happy to assist you.
What is VRE Doing to Simplify the Process?
We know this is a highly complex method of handling what should be a simple process. Unfortunately a feasible solution has not been found that will allow the use of SmarTrip® cards at VRE ticket vending machines. We continue to work with WMATA and our fare collection equipment vendor to identify a solution. In the meantime, VRE is moving forward with planning for a new fare collection system that will allow the use of smart card technology at station ticket vending machines. Until then, we will need to continue to use this method that WMATA has set up for our customers.
What's happening to the paper SmartBenefits® Vouchers?
Paper SmartBenefit Vouchers have been ended by WMATA.