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What Metro Left Unresolved

Metro customers will start to absorb the biggest ever increase in the cost of riding on Monday, Jan. 7, when the new peak fares and parking fees approved today kick in across the region.

Highlights: The Metro board adopted the compromise pushed by its Maryland representatives, somewhat blunting the impact of the increases on suburban commuters who park at the outer stations and ride the trains for long distances while killing the proposal to offer more reserved parking spaces.

Over 18 months, the plan should raise about enough money to balance the transit authority budget. But the Metro board's action today did not answer many questions that riders are asking of Metro, and that Metro board members are asking each other.

Let's look at a few.

Will customers desert?
Nobody really knows. Among the 422 people who spoke during the six public hearings or submitted written comments to Metro, about a quarter said they believed riders would abandon Metro if the plan was approved. Some believe that many people just can't afford to pay, others said riders would rebel against the unequal distribution of the costs and still others said they might as well drive.

Metro believes some people will stop riding. Managers add a factor into their budget calculations, and they think it's conservative enough for budget purposes, but it's not directly related to local experience. The board wants such a study, and budget director Rick Harcum says this is the moment to do it.

Many people -- me included -- have pointed out that Metro ridership overall increased after the last fare increase. Harcum noted that during that time, about a half dozen other factors, such as the Largo extension of Metrorail, the addition of a station at New York Avenue and the opening of new parking garages, could have contributed to the ridership increase. The experiment starting in January will be more controlled.

How soon will the next increase come and how high is it likely to be?
"We don't want to be in this mess and quagmire ever again," said board Chairman Elizabeth Hewlett. With that in mind, the board approved a resolution sponsored by Chris Zimmerman of Arlington to create a plan for fare increases. Starting in 2010, fare incrases would occur every two years and the increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Zimmerman and the other board members want to avoid any more dramatic increases. Plus, they want riders to have some rational expectation of what's going to happen next and when it's going to happen. The District's Emeka Moneme said he liked the idea of tying to the increase related to people's expenses rather than the needs of a government agency.

But as board members acknowledged, they can't tell future Metro boards what to do. Someday, in the not too distant future, a board composed of different representatives could decide the CPI idea is unrealistic. They might note that a specific set of expenses, different from the mix used in the CPI, is what drives up the transit authority's costs.

Will Metro solve complaints about the fare's fairness?
Dana Kauffman of Fairfax County, a strong advocate for long distance transit users and the lone no vote on the fare and fee increases, said the plan "is institutionalizing a raw deal." In the board's efforts to reach a compromise between city and suburbs to balance the budget, Kauffman said, it had failed to resolve the very unequal burden that riders will bear. The indexing plan for future fare increases won't solve that.

The lack of balance in the fare and fee plan so enraged I. Michael Snyder that he resigned as chairman of the Riders' Advisory Council. "In good conscience, I can no longer work with such a non-visionary board," he told the members before their final vote this afternoon. "You do not represent the riding public, haven't truly considered the public testimony, nor taken advice from the RAC in budgetary issues."

He wanted the board to concentrate on increasing ridership, rather than fares, to gain more revenue.

Are we dealing with a bureaucracy out to safe itself or an organization dedicated to providing service?
Dominating the public hearings and the written comments was a sense that riders really do think of themselves as consumers. Like consumers everywhere, they are less concerned about how the organization balances its budget than about the quality of the service it provides. If you're going to increase what you charge us, then give us our money's worth, many told Metro.

Many board members said they got it, and service was indeed a significant thread of the day's discussions.

Said board member Catherine Hudgins of Fairfax: "We can't ask people to pay more if they're unhappy with what we're trying to sell them."

By Robert Thomson  |  December 13, 2007; 2:35 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Out of curiosity, how do increases in the CPI compare with Metro fare increases? That is, how would this policy have affected what Metro would have done?

Posted by: nashpaul | December 13, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the nice Christmas present, Metro!

It is now cheaper for me to drive into town than take public transportation. Impressive.

Posted by: Bob | December 13, 2007 4:43 PM | Report abuse

This increase is going to hit families even worse. I mean, I'm one single lone person, so I pay one fare increase. But a family of two parents and two school-age kids who are coming into town to do something fun together -- yikes! They will definitely want to take a car and park it.

Posted by: Greenbelt Gal | December 13, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Can I have my next raise tied to the Consumer Price Index as well?

Posted by: broke | December 13, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I like the idea of systematic, periodic fare increases. But it seems silly to tie it to the CPI. The CPI measures a broad range of goods and services that don't necessarily relate to transportation costs. Take for example the high price of gasoline right now. Surely metro must pay much more to run its trains and buses. But the CPI is up far less than oil prices. They're likely to hamstring themselves this way.

Posted by: ah | December 13, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that Metro compares their fare increases to those in Chicago and LA. What Metro does not disclose is that the maximum per trip cost in either of those cities is $2, a lot less than the $4.50 maximum per trip costs here!

Posted by: Paying for Poor Service | December 13, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: nashpaul, the CPI resolution that the board passed today was real basic. It says that biennial fare increases will be tied to the biennial increase in the consumer price index for that period and all fares will increase proportionally.

So I'm thinking that among other things, the board would have to pick which version of the CPI it wants to use.

Still, unless we head into a truly ghastly round of inflation, the fare increase using the CPI would likely be much, much less than this current fare increase, which is the largest ever.

For example: The October to October increase in the CPI For All Urban Consumers was 3.7 percent. (Metro would apply a biennial result.) Compare that with the current increase in the basic Metrorail fare: 22 percent ($1.35 to $1.65)

While the CPI increase would likely be lower than our current fare increase, it's also going to be applied every two years.

Another problem many people will have with the CPI version is that it doesn't solve the inequality issue between long distance and short distance commuters.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | December 13, 2007 5:17 PM | Report abuse

"For example: The October to October increase in the CPI For All Urban Consumers was 3.7 percent. (Metro would apply a biennial result.) Compare that with the current increase in the basic Metrorail fare: 22 percent ($1.35 to $1.65)"

But wait a minute! It's been a lot longer than a year since Metro last raised its fares.

Posted by: Dier | December 13, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

To answer your first question, Doctor, I won't desert Metro. There's no way I want to drive in D.C. traffic.

However, all the discussion so far has missed the salient point -- Metro needs a dedicated regional and/or federal source of funding.

Posted by: Silver Spring commuter | December 13, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Metro says:

The transit agency last raised fares in 2004.

"Fares have not kept pace with inflation," said Catoe. "In the last 12 years, base fares have risen 14 percent for bus and 23 percent for rail, while the overall inflation rate has been 37 percent."

Posted by: Kevin | December 13, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

But we've just been told that Metro are going to squeeze even more people into a car by making us all stand. Surely we should be getting a fare reduction rather than an increase.

Posted by: Chris | December 13, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Dier, The board's stated goal with the CPI thing is to make fare increases more predictable. The board members want them to happen on a schedule -- every two years -- and peg the size of the increase to some widely known formula, like the CPI. Until now, Metro hasn't had any system, other than raising the fares whenever the budget got really ugly.

Chris, Are you thinking of that test car design with the bench seating on the sides and the pole running down the middle of the ceiling? I'm not crazy about that, but it's hard to relate that to this fare plan.

Metro is adding more cars to the lines, but we've still got a long-term problem with the system's capacity because only so many trains can run on two tracks. They're going to have to experiment with some different rail car designs.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | December 13, 2007 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Metro should stop subsidizing the park and riders as long as the parking lots fill up. There is no good reason for the Metro lot by one station to charge $4 while a private lot at the next charges $10.

Posted by: Tired of subsidizing cars | December 13, 2007 7:11 PM | Report abuse

I found parking near my office soon after the increases were proposed. The Orange line was already a cattle car and the spotty service when I had to transfer to the Green line made my commute an hour each way. Now, it's a 10 minute drive and another 5 to 10 to park and walk 3 blocks to my office. Even on bad traffic days, it's rarely been more than 20 minutes driving.

I've also figured out how Metro can raise ridership and at the same time greatly reduce traffic on the 14th Street Bridge. How much to Capital Hill staffers pay for parking? The major tie ups are always before the 3 or 4 lanes of traffic trying to exit at C and D streets... if Congress isn't in session, traffic runs much more smoothly.

Posted by: Dac | December 13, 2007 7:13 PM | Report abuse

One thing that stands out to me is how slanted the entire Metro fare structure is to short-haul metro and bus patrons. There are a number of issues that Metro has failed to identify and resolve at this critical juncture, lets examine a few:

1. The lack of an increase to off peak metrorail users. An increase of only 10 to 15 cents would have been sufficient.
2. The absolute disregard for the fact that buses are most impacted by rising fuel costs, yet bus fares remained mostly unchanged, except when paying with cash. Not to mention that bus riders already pay for far less (20-25%) of the cost of their ride, compared with 66% for a metrorail rider.
3. An unfair policy toward bus-metro transfers. Metro insists that they want people to walk, bike, or bus to suburban stations, but people taking the bus to a suburban station must pay the FULL bus fare, then pay the FULL metrorail fare also, resulting in a $ 5.75 one-way fare from terminating metro stations, assuming someone busses to a station. At $11.50 per day, there is no incentive to commute on metro.
4. As a continuation, metro-bus transfers only cost 35 cents, and a bus-bus transfer is FREE. What gives, metro definitely missed a chance to examine this policy.
5. Why did metro not consider a boarding surcharge at National Airport? Almost everyone taking metrorail to this station is traveling in or out of the city. Using metrorail's own ridership estimates, nearly 2 million people use this station each year, if a boarding surcharge of $2 were to be implemented, it would certainly help metro's financial situation. Obviously, even a $4.50 metro fare, plus $2 for a boarding surcharge is cheaper than a taxi fare to reach National Airport, this should be a no-brainer.

So obviously, a number of issues have gone unconsidered here, shame on Metro and its Board for, yet again, failing to provide a comprehensive, effective solution for its customers. Of course, we all know that these problems wouldn't surface if, like every other public transportation system in the country, Metro had a dedicated source of funding, from say, the federal government, after all, 1/3 of its employees are commuting to work on the system every day....

Posted by: Seth | December 13, 2007 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the suggestion for a surcharge at National, it should be noted that the local residents who use the National station most frequently are people who have jobs at National. Not sure it would be fair to put that burden on their shoulders.

Posted by: Lindemann | December 13, 2007 10:30 PM | Report abuse

With respect to the Nat'l Airport surcharge, two points:
1) How much money would this really raise? Even if the fare was $5 to L'Enfant (5 stops I think), you can't balance the budget on that.
2) If people wanted to do it, Metro could charge the high fare to those with paper farecards and give the regular fare based on time and distance to those with Smart-Trip cards. Then the people who live here and work at DCA wouldn't be penalized. I think St. Louis does something like this, if I recall correctly. I think tickets bought at the airport are expensive, but if you use tickets/tokens/whatever they use there that you have n you (something much more likely if you are a resident) you pay no surcharge.

Posted by: Dan in DC | December 13, 2007 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Its obviously assumed that it would be unfair to burden the people who work at National with a boarding surcharge, but remember that many residents who live in the DC area use National also, and would use their Smartrip card, thereby avoiding the charge. However, metro is currently upgrading smartrip technology to compute all available metro fares, including passes and transfers, so why couldn't employees of at the airport be issued special cards that would not register the boarding wouldn't be that difficult...

Of course, the surcharge obviously wouldn't solve metro's problems, but then again, making Metro the most expensive public transport system in the country when considering fares wouldn't be my first course of action either

Posted by: Seth | December 13, 2007 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Tied in with this, Metro Board should IMMEDIATELY discontinue any and all free parking at its bus lots, transit facilities, and other locations for its employees. Metro should not allow and reimbursement by any Metro employee taking a car, cab, taxi, or other private transportation, nor provide any type of limo or driving services. From the janitors up to the CEO.

Posted by: Rick | December 13, 2007 11:20 PM | Report abuse

To summarize all of these posts.. the bottom line is that this whole Metro funding issue is ridiculous. A combination of the federal government and the localities should have bridged this gap. Metro riders already pay the biggest percentage of the cost in the country, and the main impetus for Metro was for the federal government in DC... so why is it that now, when things get a little dicey, the burden should fall on us the riders, after decades of being enticed to depend on metro. Its basically a setup, they have ingrained the system o that thousands of people depend on it to get to work, then when funding issues come up everybody looks the other way and the riders catch it right between the eyes.

my $0.02

Posted by: keirreva | December 13, 2007 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Well, the best way is to vote with your feet. I know that I won't be taking the metro anymore. $100/month to park at Shady Grove + $180/month to metro to Ballston each day = more money than I can afford. It is now both faster and less expensive for me to drive. I don't like adding to the congestion on the roads, but there is only so much I can take.

Posted by: Soon to be former rider | December 14, 2007 7:20 AM | Report abuse

As a twenty something non-profit worker with a job in downtown DC ... If I still lived out in Fairfax and commuted downtown every day, I would heavily consider moving closer to work. I live in DC now thankfully. But the parking charges at metro would put a major strain on my expenses.

Posted by: Willis | December 14, 2007 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Just what we need -- let's soak visitors! How about a surcharge for boarding at Smithsonian. Or at Union Station? Or at Navy Yard after baseball games.

Posted by: ah | December 14, 2007 8:17 AM | Report abuse

It is amazing how politically painless it is to raise fares when 35% (maybe more?) percent of your ridership has their metro costs paid for by the federal government.

Add on to that all the private sector companies that provide metro checks; and not many people pay their own way anymore!

Posted by: subsidies... | December 14, 2007 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Not everyone gets free Metrochecks. At my job, we can take out our metro costs pre-tax, but we still have to pay the costs.

And some of us DON'T have a choice, which is so infuriating. I live in MD and don't own a car, so I have to pay what Metro demands in order to get to work. I hate this idea that all of suburban riders are all wealthier and can absorb the costs easier.

Posted by: M | December 14, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The sooner I can abandon this God-forsaken region the better!! When you quadruple the number of bus routes, let me know - That's the ONLY way you're going to resolve the commuting problems.

Posted by: Bill, Rockville, MD | December 14, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

What many people are failing to realize is that this fare increase should not be viewed as a pay raise for Metro, but as a way to balance their budget and a means to improve service. I am neutral on the fare increase. Instead of complaining to Metro and the Washington Post about the fare increase, why not vent frustration and anger towards our local politicians and the Federal Government for not properly subsidizing Metro and creating a dedicated funding source.

As for the for the fare increase, everyone wants better services, but no one wants to pay for them. For example, people want more roads and better roads, but no one wants to pay for them through, to say, a higher gasoline tax. Everyone complains about the poor service on Metrobus and Metrorail, but no one wants to pay for longer and more frequent trains or more reliable bus service. Running a public transportation system day-in and day-out is quite expensive and the cost of new rail cars is astronomical.

When the gasonline prices went up to over $3.00 per gallon, people said that they would cut back on driving, but our local roads never saw a decrease in traffic. If anything, congestion has gotten worse. And now, people are saying that they are going to abandon Metro for their cars. Good luck with commuting into and out of the District and facing one of the top areas in the country for traffic and congestion.

Metro fares haven't increased in years, so we all knew that this was coming eventually. We all became comfortable with the status-quo, the unchanged fares. Now we are crying foul when its time for an increase. Just imagined if gas prices were unchanged at $2.00 per gallon for the last 4 years, then went up to $3.00 over night to account for the change in inflation. That is the situation now with Metro. I'm not for or against the fare increases.... this is just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Upper Marlboro | December 14, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Shady Grove to Ballston = someone who should move to Virginia

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Great post Upper Marlboro! I think people just like to complain (even if some of their points may be valid).

Posted by: DC 21 | December 14, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Couldn't Metro increase revenue by increasing the number of advertisements on its trains? If you go to Boston or New York, for example, the tops of the cars are lined with advertisements; here in DC you only see that every now and then and it's usually for one single product for the entire train. (And leasing that entire space no doubt costs less than several individual adds would cost over the same area.) Selling spots for individual advertisements throughout the train will bring revenue into the system...personally I don't care if there are adds everywhere on the inside of the train if it means that I can pay less.

Posted by: Adam | December 14, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

If advertising was that valuable cable would be free.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

"And some of us DON'T have a choice, which is so infuriating. I live in MD and don't own a car, so I have to pay what Metro demands in order to get to work."

Err, it seems to me that you rather clearly DO have a choice: Buy a car.

Regarding the comments by "Upper Marlboro" about how people have not changed their driving habits, the thing people forget is that for many people in the DC area, a $1.00 rise in the price of gas isn't a big deal. I recall reading somewhere that the median annual income in Fairfax County is $90,000. Let's suppose you fill up your gas tank three times a month with 15 gallons per fillup. At $2.00 a gallon, you'd spend $1,080 a year. At $3.00 a gallon, you'd spend $1,620 a gallon--i.e., $540 more. I think it's reasonable to think that $540 is not a very substantial amount of money for many people in the DC area. Certainly it is for some folks, but clearly it's not that much for a lot of people around here, and I think that's a major reason why people haven't changed their driving habits.

Posted by: Rich | December 14, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

It is that valuable, but there are limits and regulations on ads, in terms of content and space.

The only problems I have with the fare increase is that it seems to punish people who take the train from/to the burbs into/from DC during rush hour. Also, the current regulations only allow a max of $110/month to be withheld from my pre-tax pay for SmartBenefits. Meanwhile, with the fare increase, my commute will cost about $162/month, meaning I still have to pay a difference of $52/month to accommodate the new fares. The board should be required to raise the maximum withhold amount every time there is an increase in fares.

So before anyone says that we just like to complain, think about all the people like me who really are going to have to readjust our budgets or work closer to home.

And no, I will not move to DC, because it's little more than a gentrified sh*thole, and I won't stand for living and paying taxes without having full congressional representation.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | December 14, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

you save enough money in taxes by not living in dc to pay for your own damn transportation

Posted by: Anonymous | December 14, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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