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More fare chart mysteries

I've described the variety of new signs Metro posted to mark the fare increases, but as this occasional rider describes his problems with the signage, he points out something I hadn't noticed till today: The main chart, the one that lists the station-to-station fares, indicates a charge of 45 cents for a peak of the peak trip.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am not a frequent rider of Metro, simply because it's not feasible for my commute from Fairfax to Reston. Still, I do ride Metro a fair bit whenever I go into the District. This past Friday was one of those occasions, and I can't believe how confusing the new fare-related signage is.

First, the previous fare structure had two fares, referred to as "regular" (rush hour) fares and
"reduced" fares. With that in mind, why don't they simply call the new higher fare a "peak" fare instead of "peak-of-the-peak?"

fare_sign.jpg Problem papered over: Metro posted yellow explanation signs and fare update decals on station kiosks. (WMATA photo)

Then you would have reduced, regular and peak fares. "Peak-of-the-peak" just sounds really cheesy. Also, WMATA has made many notations on these signs that the P-O-P fares are charged Monday-Friday only. Why didn't they make the same notations on regular fares?

Those fares aren't charged on weekends, with the exception of Friday and Saturday late-night service. There is a little chart on the signs that shows the breakdown of which fares are charged at which times, but I can see weekend riders getting confused since there is nothing noting that regular fares are not charged on weekends.

Also, I thought the P-O-P fare was only a 20-cent surcharge. However, the signage at West Falls Church showed a 45-cent difference between that fare and the regular fare. Are they mixing up the cash fares and SmarTrip fares?

I really think Metro has done a horrible job with their signage, and I was afraid that was going to be the result of a more complicated fare structure. I hope that you can pass this information along to Metro and that we see some changes. Looks like they will blow their signage budget this year.
-- Brian Gannon, Fairfax

I've been staring at those new fare charts for days, trying to absorb all the new information. But it wasn't till this morning that I took a good look at the red column on the right of the station-to-station chart, the column adding in the peak of the peak surcharge to the fare, that I noticed what Gannon described: It adds 45 cents, when the peak of the peak is only 20 cents. The only way 45 cents works is if you're combining the peak of the peak surcharge with the 25-cent paper Farecard surcharge. But that wouldn't match up with the chart's listing for the "regular" fare, which is supposed to be the fare for riders using plastic SmarTrip cards, not paper cards.

If you don't believe me, just read the yellow signs, the ones attached last week that were supposed to clarify what the station to station signs said.

Metro is redoing all the station-to-station signs so that they'll uniformly display the fares for people using paper Farecards, and note that SmarTrip users pay 25 cents less. [UnsuckDCMetro has a posting on this same signage topic.]

The Metro board's decision to add two surcharges made confusion over the signs almost inevitable. It's not so much an issue for the regulars, many of whom take the same daily trip, carry SmarTrip cards, and add lots of value at once. It's more of an issue for occasional riders, who do need to stare at the charts before putting money in the vending machines to get paper cards.

The fare gates are deducting the correct amounts. But if the paper card users are following the guidance of all the signs -- yellow signs plus station-to-station signs, they're going to wind up with an extra 25 cents on the card at the end of a peak of the peak trip.

[Inquiry: I've heard some reports that drivers are having problems with the SmarTrip readers as they try to exit Metro parking lots and garages. For example, one correspondent described a problem that tied up exiting traffic at the Rockville Station on Monday night. What's been your experience during the past week?]

By Robert Thomson  | August 10, 2010; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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It's obvious that there is a problem when the fare structure is so complex that Metro itself can't get it right.

Posted by: ceebee2 | August 10, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Is there any obstacle to WMATA just going back to a two-tier (regular/peak) fare structure instead of the new four(six?)-tier structure?

Posted by: augrim08052010 | August 10, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Any word on how much money Metro lost by handing out free rides for two weeks?

Posted by: jiji1 | August 11, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

At the Landover station, in the upper parking lot, one of the exits has been blocked off. At the other one, the SmarTrip reader apparently doesn't work, so the gates are in the up position and you don't have to pay. I noticed this on August 2nd and again this past Monday & last night. Last night, I noticed that the parking attendant was handing a piece of paper to a driver, like when you don't have a SmarTrip card to pay or it won't register and you have to send in your payment by mail. But then several cars, including mine, approached the only exit and the attendant waved us all off, saying we didn't have to pay. While from an individual perspective, I'm happy to save $4.25/day on parking, how widespread is this situation? This is so emblematic of Metro's problems. They never seem to test anything out or get real-life feedback before they launch it system-wide. I can't tell you how many times I now have to swipe my card at various gates to get them to work. I'm constantly getting the "Touch SmarTrip Again" notification or "See Station Manager" only to find out that it's not a problem with my card.

Posted by: bdk64 | August 11, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

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