The Proud History of MTA's New CharmCard

As a token of our appreciation for supporting MTA and for using public transportation to help keep our environment healthier, we’d like to share a little history with you about how fare media has changed in the past 156 years. Also, we thought you’d enjoy a first look at our brand-new CharmCard coming your way soon.

When public transit started here in July 1859, fares on the Baltimore City Passenger Railway, Baltimore’s first public rail service, were three cents and transfers were an additional three cents. This rail service, which consisted of the Red, White and Green Lines, was horse-drawn and covered very short routes. On January 25, 1899 Baltimoreans saw the consolidation of all street railway companies, and the one-way fare at that time was five cents. A nickel in 1899 could buy a ticket to the theater, a Coke or glass of beer, a piece of pie or a magazine. That nickel would equal $1.38 in today’s dollars, so transit is still a great bargain, especially when compared to inflated cost of food, cars and houses. In 1910 control of fares was placed in the hands of the Public Service Commission, and basic UR&E and BTC fares bounced up and down for the next 40 years between a nickel and a dime. Along with prices, transit fare medium has also changed drastically through the years.

The use of transit tokens in the United States dates back to 1831, when brass coins were minted for horsecars and horse-drawn omnibuses. Tokens were also produced in 1897 for America’s first subway in Boston and again in 1904 in New York. One characteristic of many transit tokens are the distinctive cutouts, sometimes in the shapes of letters, to differentiate them at a glance from other coins. Fare collection has changed dramatically though the years since the first tokens.

Paper transfers were introduced in Baltimore on July 1, 1900 to go along with the already-existing paper tickets that were in use along with the tokens. Pass cards were issued to BTC employees on January 1, 1934, and exactly three years later another innovative transit pass, the “Two-Trip Slip Ride” ticket, was offered to the public. With this ticket, the passenger paid the initial fare of ten cents but the return ride was only a nickel. The MTA Monthly Pass was introduced in April 1976, and 9,400 were sold that first month. “We set up the pass system,” said Joe V. Garvey, Metropolitan Transit Administration (MTA) resident manager at the time, “to give the regular commuter a break, to avoid the daily problem of having the exact change or tokens, and for convenience.” The popularity soared and by the second month monthly pass sales hit 21,500 – a 129 percent increase!

Today MTA fare media is available at pass sales outlets throughout Baltimore, or you can use your CharmCard® and enjoy the convenience of adding value to the smart card online. Smart cards can be made of paper or plastic, but most are plastic. The age of plastic began in 1907 with the invention of Bakelite, but it was the invention of automated chip card technology in 1968 and the 1976 introduction of smart cards with memory and microprocessors that really led to transit smart cards.

From tokens to transfers to transit smart cards, the MTA continues to utilize the latest technology to be at the forefront of this ongoing technical evolution. The choice to take transit has always been the smart choice, and now we find out it is also the healthier choice. And, as an added bonus, it turns out that what is good for transit is also good for the planet.