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Metrorail delays morning surcharge

Metrorail will impose only the afternoon portion of its new peak of the peak fare surcharge on Monday. Commuters will get a few weeks' reprieve on paying the extra 20 cents during the morning peak, as the transit authority struggles to adjust its fare programming.

The peak of the peak charge, a new style of fare approved by the Metro board this spring, will eventually be imposed on rail riders who travel at the very busiest times: 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays. While an earlier round of rail and bus fare increases took effect June 27, the peak of the peak charge required an upgrade in Metro's fare-calculating system, so planners scheduled it for the first week of August.

The upgrade proved even more challenging than Metro originally expected. The problem, according to the transit authority, was created by memory limitations in the fare gate technology used with paper Farecards. Metro said it needs the extra time to ensure that the technology can accommodate all the time periods and fares involved in peak of the peak pricing.

This should be done by the end of August, but Metro has not set an exact date for applying the morning surcharge. SmarTrip electronic fare cards are not subject to the same fare-calculating limitations, but Metro is going to treat all cards equally when it comes to imposing the peak of the peak surcharge.

This means that for most of August, a typical 9 to 5 commuter who makes two rail trips a day at the busiest times will pay an extra dollar a week rather than two dollars.

Over the weekend, Metro will place yellow, softball-sized decals on the fare vending machines that advise riders of the partial surcharge.

When the reprogramming is done and the reprieve ends, the paper Farecards riders are buying now will still work, Metro said.

While some riders are paying a buck a week extra, Metro stands to lose $200,000 to $375, 000 in anticipated revenue, depending on exactly when the programming problem is resolved

How to beat it
The peak of the peak surcharge will be assessed when you enter the rail system. It doesn't matter how far you ride, how long you ride or where you exit. That means that if you have some flexibility, you can save the money by entering the system earlier or later than the busiest times. So as of Monday, if you can go through the fare gate at 6:05 p.m. rather than 5:55 p.m., you'll save 20 cents. If you travel on the early side of the afternoon peak, and would normally go through the gate at 4:40 p.m., you could save 20 cents by sliding out of work a little earlier and going through the gate at 4:25 p.m.
Time is money.

If you're still with me, I can make the fare payment system even more complicated by listing some of the other changes coming up in this round.

SmarTrip differential
On Monday, rail riders who use paper Farecards will pay 25 cents more per trip than riders who use SmarTrip cards. Metro had great success moving bus riders to use the electronic cards after imposing a penalty on cash fares. It's hoping for a similar outcome now with a rail fare differential.

Also on Monday, the cost of three Metrorail passes will increase. The Weekly Short Trip Pass will be $32.35, the Weekly Fast Pass will be $47 and the Transit Link Card for
MARC and VRE riders will be $102.

Cheaper SmarTrip cards
The one thing that will be cheaper is the cost of buying a SmarTrip card. On Aug. 29, Metro will drop the charge from $5 to $2.50. So as the transit authority pushes riders away from paper and toward plastic, it will be making the plastic cheaper.

I'm planning to review all these changes and sum up the seven-month string of fare increases for The Post's Commuter page on Sunday. Are there particular aspects of all this that raise questions or comments? Anything you'd like me to clarify?

By Robert Thomson  | July 29, 2010; 6:40 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget, Metrorail  
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The problem with SmarTrip is that is can only be purchased at a select number of stations, either those with parking or Metro Center. If Metro is moving forward with these fare changes, they need to make SmarTrip purchases more accessible to the riding public.

Posted by: jlowry1 | July 29, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Dr. G, how can riders determine the "official system time" on Metro? Are the station clocks synchronized to it? What about the time listed at the bottom of the "Realtime Arrivals" web page for each station? Obviously, riders will need to know if they are considering adjusting their trip times to avoid the new surcharges.

Posted by: hoosiereph | July 29, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Metro fare structure is as disorganized and confusing as metro itself. Its a metaphor for how the agency is run.

Posted by: 123cartoon | July 29, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Is this why the fare gates are running slower now?

And why no reporting on Foggy Bottom? There have been massive crowding and fare gate problems all week. Fare gates aren't working, 3-4 escalators are out of service, Metro employees are just sitting there (except for this morning when they brought in the Police), lines stretch up and down the block. It looks like a freaking bread line. (I can answer this one myself - there's no reporting because everyone sits around waiting for a Metro press release.)

Here's one report to get you started:

Posted by: jiji1 | July 29, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

jiji1, I was beginning to think I was the only one who was noting the slower response time on the fare gates. Although the article seems to suggest the problem is with "fare gate technology used with paper Farecards," I'm curious if this is the reason why it's taking longer for my SmarTrip to register (and the gates to open).

Posted by: sprest | July 29, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Its been taking longer for the fare gates to respond to my SmarTrip card but I just chalked that up to the card being almost 10 years old and probably due for a replacement. Maybe not. I'm just hoping it can hold out until August 29th and then I'll buy a new one.

Posted by: archers44 | July 29, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I seriously don't understand the rationale for charging a higher fare during peak commute times. Shouldn't Metro be encouraging commuters to utilize mass transit instead of penalizing them for doing so.

Posted by: SaysEye | July 29, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I have a feeling that people will be standing outside of the Metro stations, looking at the clock, waiting for 6:01pm and then charging through like a herd of cattle.

Posted by: chgocutie1 | July 29, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse


I seriously don't understand the rationale for charging a higher fare during peak commute times. Shouldn't Metro be encouraging commuters to utilize mass transit instead of penalizing them for doing so.

Posted by: SaysEye | July 29, 2010 12:02 PM"

A good question. Please allow me to answer it for you. Metro knows VERY WELL that the majority of commuters do not have sufficient flexibility in their work hours to avoid the peak surcharges. Metro is not trying to encourage anybody to change their working hours. They WANT you to pay the surcharge because they need the money. That's the answer. As it is wont to do, Metro is simply lying through its teeth as to its motives.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 29, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

A metro trip adjusting for the new peak of peak will cost me $8.80 a day. (thankfully I don't have to park at a metro station) The garage in my building costs $10. Not to mention the perks, I actually can have a seat in my own car and it has air conditioning. Thanks Metro! Instead of encouraging more people to take public transport you are pushing them into their cars.

Posted by: lucl74 | July 29, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Metro is truly the biggest joke in DC. What about the cars that have no air conditioning; overcrowding; wait times; just the possibility of losing one's life just riding Metro is of serious concern and now another surcharge for peak hours. If riders have a 9:00a-5:00p job, how are we to alter our commutes? I'm telling you riders of Metro, you had better start protesting and form picket lines against Metro, otherwise you will pay another fare hike in another 2 months.

Posted by: daughterofold | July 29, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow, they're so incompetent they cannot even raise the fares fast enough.

Posted by: scoran | July 29, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Some of you have been commenting that you're finding the fare gates are running slower. I'm very interested in that, because I have had the same experience over the past several weeks and thought it might be some problem developing with my SmarTrip card.

I'm asking Metro about this, and am wondering if it might turn out to be related to the reprogramming necessary to charge for peak of the peak.

But let's see if our experiences match: I tap the SmarTrip card as usual and walk forward at my normal pace, but find I have to come to a complete stop and wait for the gates to open.

(I pay attention to that sort of thing because we've had discussions during my online chats about how quickly SmarTrip users should be able to move through the gates at rush hour.)

Please share our recent experiences on this with me.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | July 29, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Will SmarTrip cards still allow you to go "negative" upon exiting the gates? Now that they're only $2.50, if the gates let you out when you don't have enough money to pay your fare on the card, it could actually save a rider money to just buy a new card instead of reusing their old one.

Posted by: blueangel1180 | July 29, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: I think WashingtonDame is stating the case correctly on why we're getting peak of the peak. This surcharge is sometimes described as a form of "congestion pricing," encouraging riders to travel at less busy times.

Maybe a little. Metro officials do expect some people who travel on the shoulders of rush hour to adjust their schedules slightly and avoid the surcharge.

But Metro is definitely counting on this to be a money-maker. It targets the typical 9 to 5 employee who's unlikely to be able to significantly adjust his or her work schedule.

There was very little public discussion of this by Metro board members, and I must say I've heard very little protest from riders. My theory: Many 9 to 5 workers are federal employees whose Metro riders are subsidized.

What do you think?

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | July 29, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I really hate paying a premium price for services that are awful. What happens when my train is severely delayed in the morning and I arrive late to work, but still paid that surcharge because I entered the system and was stuck on a platform while over-crowded trains lurched by? If they're going to charge me for that super fun time, I'll be enjoying the Circulator bus a lot more for half the price.

Posted by: kddunn1 | July 29, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I think that the Metro Board has decided to implement the peak-of-the-peak fares expecting that they will produce more money rather than easy congestion. And yes, it could be because many of the riders in those windows are feds who have their transit subsidized (only to a certain amount, though) and won't notice it too much.

I also think that there wasn't a whole lot of discussion and/or protest about the peak fares because it was couched in terms of "it's this way or a reduction in service." It was a lose/lose situation, and I know that I (as a five day a week Metro commuter) decided that paying more was the lesser of the two evils.

Posted by: blueangel1180 | July 29, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

"I seriously don't understand the rationale for charging a higher fare during peak commute times. Shouldn't Metro be encouraging commuters to utilize mass transit instead of penalizing them for doing so."

Posted by: SaysEye | July 29, 2010 12:02 PM

To be fair, it's not necessarily just more money for Metro; peak fares will encourage those passengers with some flexiblity to change their commute times - and if not every day, maybe some days a week. Any decrease, even a small decrease, in the amount of rush hour commuters, shifting them to off-peak times, will allow for less overcrowding of trains, and a more balanced "workflow" for Metro during the entire day.

You can always think of it this way: Metro increased the fares for everyone, all day. You may not agree that they should increase fares, but they're overbudget for whatever reason, so it had to happen, because they couldn't find an agreeable way to cut costs without cutting service. Then, they implemented different "discounts" for travelling during off-peak times, which you're lucky if you can take advantage of them.

"Metro" isn't in the business of encouraging mass transit. They're in the business of operating mass transit within their budget. *Governments* are in the business of encouraging mass transit, if it saves the government money on other infrastructure that's required for people to get to work & pay taxes. And if governments (MD, VA, DC, Fed, any local municipality, ...) want to encourage mass transit, they'd give Metro more money to do its job so that Metro wouldn't have to increase fares.

Posted by: Chris737 | July 29, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I agree, most metro riders are federal employees - why are they discriminating towards people in the private sector? Many of us do get pre-taxable commuting money, but it's still such a big chunk of my paycheck that it hurts.

Posted by: kddunn1 | July 29, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I think the new peak of the peak surcharge is going to be a mess on the already messy Orange Line. I get on around 7:20am in Clarendon and the trains are already full to bursting. If people adjust their commutes earlier to avoid the higher pricing, there will be no hope of boarding past Ballston.

Posted by: tembee | July 29, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock, my experience with the SmarTrip gate delays has been the same as yours; I can no longer simply tap my card and walk through the gates. I first noticed the delay after watching maintenance personnel working on the gates the previous evening.

Posted by: sprest | July 29, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

What will it take for Metro to get it? Granted many people get transit subsidy from their employers, but what about those that don't? A few extra dollars may not mean a lot to you or me, but what about the person that needs every penny? No Metro, your problem is not money, your problem as made evident by the scathing NTSB report, is a culture of dysfunction.

Posted by: stuckintraffictoo | July 29, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Interesting about the SmarTrip cards. I've noticed the same delays. I used to be able to breeze through w/o stopping. Now, if I don't stop and wait for the faregate to process the fare, I'll go through the gates too soon, meaning that I'll have to talk to an unpleasant kiosk attendant to get my card's programming fixed.

One night recently around 8:30 pm, I entered Cleveland Park and needed to have my SmarTrip card "fixed." Previously, I had exited a station earlier but had not completely stopped as I, apparently, should have. I had to bang on the kiosk window at Cleveland Park several times and raise my voice to get the attendant's attention. When the attendant responded, he was sullen and said nothing. At least, he "fixed" my card.

Furthermore, I noted that, when that when the attendant was dozing in the kiosk, he had his back to the TV screens that monitor the platforms. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of Metro's security system, which is supposed to be so superior to other systems' security systems?

Posted by: RockvilleBear | July 29, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock, I, too, have been experiencing the same delays with my Smartrip card during my regular commute on the Green and Red Lines. Seems like this has been going on for more than a month now.

Posted by: patty_1206 | July 29, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for the notes on the fare gate delays. sprest, what station were you at when this happened to you?

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 29, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock, I’ve also been noticing the same delays you described above when using my SmarTrip card. I found it particularly noticeably at Van Ness this morning. Of the three fare gates (one of which is the accessible gate, so you’ve got people both entering/exiting using it) programmed for entry, one of the two regular ones was not reading cards. There’s an unusually large crowd of people waiting to swipe through the two working gates (again, one of which is the accessible gate – which of course takes a bit longer to open, plus you have to share with people exiting). It was excessively slow going. Everyone more or less waiting to swipe through a single gate, PLUS the fact that the gates are taking longer to read/acknowledge the card and open. A Metro employee finally wandered over and mentioned something about a power outage (really? A power outage that affected just the one gate?) being the reason for the one gate problem. I don’t know how the gate programming works, but surely they could have reprogrammed one of the exit gates as an entry gate to even things out. The employee offered to let us pass through the non-farecard gate (the one the swings open), and we could “just get our cards fixed” at our destination station. Please, because I really want to waste an equal amount of time trying to get a station manager’s attention to ask to have my card fixed (since presumably it would be confused that I hadn’t swiped to enter but would be swiping to exit). No thanks.

Posted by: DC84 | July 29, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I was exiting at the Silver Spring Station, but also noticed a delay in the gates reading my SmarTrip card and opening at Judiciary Square.

Posted by: sprest | July 29, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

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