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Metro rider proposes targeted fare increase

See other postings in this series on Metro's options:
-- Jim Graham: Tap capital budget.
-- Transit coalition asks Metro to avoid cuts.
-- Smart Growthers back fare hike, borrowing.
-- Metro rider outlines travel concerns.
-- Riders consider train lengths, service cuts
-- Riders group backs surcharge.
-- What's at stake for Metro riders in budget.

I've been hearing from many Metro riders on how the transit authority should close its budget gap. Sometimes, they write in with "Dear Dr. Gridlock" letters and sometimes they want to share the testimony they are sending to the Metro board in advanced of the 5:30 p.m. public hearing. Here's an example of the latter from a Takoma Park resident:

Instead of the suggested fare increases, a more targeted fare increase would be smarter. The targeted increase described below would improve revenue, ridership, and service by reducing overcrowding.

The fare structure (which currently consists of two tiers) should be changed to a three-tier structure. The third tier would consist of a substantial surcharge imposed during specified rush hour periods and itineraries. The trips subject to the surcharges would be worked out by determining at what times certain stations and trains are overcrowded. For example, those exiting at Farragut North between, say, 8:30 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. would be subject to a surcharge. (Because that station is overcrowded.)

On the other hand, someone taking the train from Fort Totten to Wheaton during the morning would not be subject to a surcharge, since the train is not full in that direction (I am assuming). Trips subject to surcharge would be posted on WMATA's Web site and in stations. Periodic adjustments would be made.

A lot of people would be subject to the surcharge, because the surcharge would be imposed for those situations where a lot of people are using the system at the same time. This means that the surcharge will raise a substantial amount of revenue, because even if some people avoid it by changing their behavior, many will not and will pay the higher amount, because it is convenient for them. The surcharge therefore will raise a lot of revenue.

At the same time, if the surcharge is high enough (deciding the appropriate level will involve judgment), then it will divert ridership from times when the system is overcrowded to those times when it is underutilized.

This has two beneficial effects: People will feel better because they will not be so crammed together, and more people will be able to ride the system, with a given number of trains.

The surcharge is also more fair than an across the board fare increase: By and large it will be paid by people who choose to pay it (i.e. who are unwilling to change their travel schedule, or who actually are happier riding less crowded trains during the very peak
period, and willing to pay for the privilege).
Victor Thuronyi
Takoma Park

This is the transit equivalent of the Intercounty Connector toll system, or the High Occupancy Toll Lanes coming to the Beltway in Virginia. The cost of a trip is based on the demand. Of course, Metro uses a form of demand pricing now by offering discounts for off-peak travel.

On the Greater Greater Washington blog, Michael Perkins and David Alpert have pushed for a "peak of the peak" fare. This would establish a higher fare for the top ridership hour in the morning and the top ridership hour in the afternoon. The fare would be a little lower for the rest of the peak period, but still higher than at off-peak.

These are more than just money raising ideas -- though raising money is good, at this point. They also are policy ideas, designed to encourage riders to spread out their trips. The response I get from riders anytime we discuss ideas for variable pricing and spreading out trips is: Fine. I'll tell my boss I've decided to change my work scheduled, and I'll let you know the response I get.

Most people would have to accept the higher price, because their schedule isn't flexible, or they'd switch to another mode of transportation.

Other riders -- usually the people who take the longest and most expensive trips -- would like to see Metro go to a flat fare system, which would drive down their transit costs while raising fares for those taking shorter trips.

None of these things is likely to emerge this week, as the Metro board decides what to do to close the current budget gap. But there's another round coming up very soon in which the board will have to close a $175 million budget gap for the next fiscal year.

Watch the blog today for more ideas from Metro riders.
-- See the previous posting in which Metro board Chairman Jim Graham says why he thinks the current gap can be closed by transferring money from the capital budget.
-- See more comments from riders about the cost-savings option that would eliminate eight-car trains.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 27, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Transit coalition asks Metro to avoid service cuts
Next: Smart Growthers back fare hike, borrowing


Price signals like this peak-of-the-peak surcharge only work if people have the ability to change their schedules. Let's face it, the vast majority of workers have to be in their offices and on their jobs on the days and during the hours set by their employers, not them. They simply can't decide to show up a hour later each day and leave an hour later. Because most riders subject to the surcharge can't change their behavior in response to the surcharge, you only encourage them to compare the cost of Metro to driving, including the non-economic costs of safety concerns, non-reliability, broken escalators and elevators, crowded trains, rude employees, etc.

Actually, I'm beginning to think that Mr. Thuronyi must work for a car dealership. :)

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 27, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I too agree that it would be difficult for many riders to change their schedule due to many reasons (i.e. inflexible employer, childcare issues, etc.). However, I like the idea. If this type of system can be implemented with a small enough window (i.e. 5, 10, or 15 min increments) you just might be able to change rider's habits enough to say catch that 7:15 train as opposed to the 7:20 train and thus reducing the over crowding situation that happens at 8:00 am in a given station.

But then again, I'm probably one of the few riders that is willing to pay more if service, reliability, etc is improved in the long run. The only thing I ask in return is efficent and effective management - something which I haven't seen much of lately.

Posted by: chass80 | January 27, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

They should also make fares refundable if you can't safely get on a train.

Posted by: member5 | January 27, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

"Congestion Pricing" isn't really fair to SmartBenefits users who need to determine their usage in advance.

With all the fare hikes, it is now cheaper for me to drive. With all of the service disruptions, it is also faster for me to drive. And with a 50/50 shot of getting a car with working air conditioning (admittedly less of a problem during the winter, but as you can see, I've been driving for a while), it's more comfortable for me to drive.

I drive. Eff Metro.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | January 27, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Flat pricing. Raise the minimum fare to $2.25 or $2.50.

Raise bus fares.

Fire Catoe now.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 27, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

All these ideas are quite frankly hilarious. The purpose of Metro is a means for public transportation for the masses. To actually suggest that higher fares be given to people who take certain trains at certain times is ridiculous. Riders are in some cases already paying over $10 (including $4.25 for parking) a day to ride metro in some cases and your asking them to pay MORE during peak PEAK hours?!?! What is a "peak of peak hour"? Let's just say what it is now, metro has done a horrible job of using the small resources it has been given and now we have to fill the gap to make up for their shortcomings. While the transit system needs further funding from each states government as well as federal, the people should not be footing the bill twice. We pay to ride then we are also taxed to ride, they are already getting a double dose of our money. Here's a question, what happens when the government decides they want to invest billions of dollars in transit? Will the fares go back down? No, even when metro starts turning a profit fares will never go down. Metro is becoming more expensive than driving, and why don’t I just drive you ask? Because then a article will come up about how much car traffic is on the road and how more people should take public transportation. Metro is just not convenient anymore.

Posted by: TCobb20721 | January 27, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Agree with alt. Flat fare makes the most sense. And have an unlimited pass system, day, week, month, 14 days, etc etc.

Posted by: echenna | January 27, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

How about we get some competent managers in there that won't waste money already coming in. I have a hard time believing that they are that low on money. I understand they are not funded by the fed but they are getting money from MD/VA/DC. They've had fare hikes in the past and even started building apts/condo's on some of their property. They should be audited to see who is pilfering their funds. It really is getting more expensive to use the Metro and that is ludicrous.

Posted by: luvdc808 | January 27, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I have a problem with the concept of reducing services to plug the budget shortfall. From what I know about this issue, the reason for this current fiscal shortfall is due to a reduction in riders. Has Metro studied what will likely happen as a result of these service cuts? I will prognosticate that it will result in a further decrease in ridership and a worsening of the current fiscal predicament. To support this point I can use my personal experience. I am not a rail commuter, but use Metro frequently on nights and weekends. Since the nearly continuous maintenance, and its associated service disruptions, on the red line over the course of the last year, I greatly reduced my Metro usage. Because of the greater amounts of time waiting for trains, I no longer have an incentive to take Metro to go into the city. I now drive when I need to go into the city. My point here is that such cuts will have the opposite intended effect and my plug the budget in the short term only to increase the budget shortfall later. My second comment relates to the proposed idea of taking money from future repairs/maintenance budgets to plug the deficit. This is also a short sighted approach. It will correct the current budget at the expense of future budgets. For these reasons, I would support a fare increase over service cuts. I just think service cuts will be more damaging in the long run.

Posted by: milonejo | January 27, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Agree with previous posters. Metro is supposed to take cars OFF the road, not put more on. The fact that people find driving more efficient and/or cheaper is one of the many reasons why Metro is where it is today.

When it works, Metro is a good system, but squeezing more money out of a decreasing ridership isn't the best solution to their financial woes.

Finally, I'd be much less opposed to Metro considering a fare increase if they were able to do simple things like keep their escalators/elevators in service...and stop killing their employees.

Posted by: dallenva | January 27, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Fire Catoe?

Ummm. He quit.


Posted by: member5 | January 27, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

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