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).
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.
January 27, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: Metro | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget
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