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Metro Leader to Propose Peak Fares for Inauguration Day

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said today that he will ask the Metro Board of Directors to allow him to charge full fares for Metrorail service during much of Jan. 20. He also will recommend that the transit authority charge for parking at its lots and garages.

Metro had been planning on charging off peak fares, even though it will be providing rush-period service for 15 straight hours, from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Parking was to be free, partly because paying for parking almost always requires the use of a SmarTrip electronic fare card, and many out of towners won't have them.

Like many of my readers, I think the peak fares is an easy call. Inauguration Day is going to cost us a small fortune. There's no way Metro could make a profit on this intensive service, but at least we can limit the financial damage by charging peak fares for peak service.

It won't reduce the demand for service on that particular day. And it won't be any more difficult for transit riders. They'll go through the fare gates the same way. On WTOP radio, Catoe said that one thing he definitely doesn't want to do is throw open the fare gates and let people ride for free.

I agree there's absolutely no reason to do that. We need that money. And crowding on the streets will be so bad that the fares won't dampen enthusiasm for transit. Also, the fare gates may serve as a form of crowd control on Metro, slowing the flow of people onto the platform. (Another form of crowd control, unfortunately, is shutting off many escalators, so people are slowed to a walking pace.)

Parking is another matter: Charging for parking could make a big difference in the flow of traffic in and out of the garages and lots. If Metro planned to use the regular payment system, we'd be in big trouble at the stations.

But Catoe says no. People will be able to pay in a variety of ways, so you won't have out of towners pulling up to the exit gate and realizing only then that they need a SmarTrip card. (I'd do it like a ballgame, where people take cash from drivers entering the parking places. And make the charge $5 or $10 -- whatever, as long as it's possible to pay with one bill.)

The reason Catoe wants to switch from free to a pay system is that Metro is going to have to bring in a private contractor to operate manage parking on such a busy day. That's going to cost extra money, some of which he wants to recoup by charging for parking.

The Metro board meets on Thursday. See Lena Sun's online story for more details.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 16, 2008; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  Inauguration , Metro  
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Once upon a time on July 4 Metro used to charge a flat fare of some amount I forget and would use buckets to collect it. You'd throw your fare in a bucket and walk through the faregates, which had been locked in the open position. The idea was to move the crowds more quickly by eliminating the backup that occurs when you have people unfamiliar with this area's rather odd farecards fumbling around.

Seemed to work pretty well back then, and the idea of a flat $5 charge would make things easy on January 20, but I suppose nowadays you'd have more people trying to slip through without paying, or trying to grab some money out of the barrels (while they had grated tops through which you were supposed to drop your money, inevitably some people's bills wound up on top to be snatched by less honest people). Too bad.

Posted by: 1995hoo | December 16, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

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