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Metro fares and service revisited

In this post-blizzard week -- before transit users start paying that extra dime for Metro rides, before they remember what regular service feels like -- Metro board members plan to begin discussing these questions:


  • Should the basic fare to board a train at rush hour be increased to $1.90?

  • Should the maximum peak fare go to $5?

  • Should riders be charged an extra dime if they board at the peak of the peak?

  • Should the Metrobus fare go to $1.50?

  • Should the time allowed for free bus-to-bus transfers shrink from three hours to two?

  • Should eight-car trains be eliminated at rush hour?

  • Should the gaps between trains be increased to 15 minutes at midday on weekdays and to half an hour on weeknights?

  • Should all northbound trains on the Yellow Line terminate at Mount Vernon Square?

  • Should the trains start running a half hour later on weekdays and an hour later on weekends?

All those possibilities are listed in the draft of a budget that the board's finance committee is set to discuss Thursday. I'm just picking out some of the attention-getting highlights. They seem especially depressing after the week of service cuts imposed by Mother Nature.

Governing boards almost never do all the things that are in these draft budgets, and transit riders won't experience all the things I just listed. But each time the board decides against doing one of those things, it will have to find another cut or another source of revenue to compensate.

And there isn't much time. According to the transit authority timetable, this draft proposal will have to become the board's proposal next month, so public hearings on fare increases and service cuts can be held in April and approved. (It takes a long time to change all those signs about fares and operating hours.)

And at this point, it doesn't look like anyone is going to be riding to our rescue -- not the federal government, not the local jurisdictions. The riders and the transit authority staff are going to be tasked with solving this one.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 17, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metorail, Metrobus  
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Next: Megabus to start Philly service

Comments

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, No Opinion, A Thousand Times No, Yes weekdays/No weeknights, No Opinion, No Weekdays/Yes Weekends (but a weak yes not based on particularly informed opinion)

Posted by: Stevis16 | February 17, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

"Should the gaps between trains be increased to 15 minutes at midday on weekdays and to half an hour on weeknights?"

Any person with a functioning brain can see from last week that if you do this there will be mass chaos and possible deaths resulting from platform crowding. 30 min is way too long between trains not only for convenience ( I will never take metro on the weekday evenings to dinner/entertainment if this happens) but for safety. The metro board needs to use their brains here. Raise fares to whatever, but service cuts that increase the time to wait for trains has to be a non starter.

Oh and if you raise fares, then you have to crack down on the Unions concerning raises for workers and fire any and all workers who are lazy and who violate safety measures. Time to get tough.

Posted by: JG55 | February 17, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse


# Should the basic fare to board a train at rush hour be increased to $1.90?

No. 1.65 to 1.90 is a 15% increase.

# Should the maximum peak fare go to $5?

No. 4.50 to 5.00 is a 11% increase.

# Should riders be charged an extra dime if they board at the peak of the peak?

Maybe. Peak of peak fare is not a bad idea. But only if the service matches the fare. Peak fare at 6:50 is absurd when some of the lines are already at off-peak intervals.


# Should the Metrobus fare go to $1.50?

Yes.

# Should the time allowed for free bus-to-bus transfers shrink from three hours to two?

Maybe. How much will this "save?"

# Should eight-car trains be eliminated at rush hour?

No. They should be increased.

# Should the gaps between trains be increased to 15 minutes at midday on weekdays and to half an hour on weeknights?

Half hour on weekends = I will never use metro on weekends.

# Should all northbound trains on the Yellow Line terminate at Mount Vernon Square?

No opinion.

# Should the trains start running a half hour later on weekdays and an hour later on weekends?

I'd imagine this would affect a lot of people. It has no affect on me, and thus, I have no opinion.

Posted by: support6 | February 17, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

How about getting creative and charging extra for paper fare cards? That will largely target tourists. Again, let's use our brains here and come up with good out of the box ideas. Enough of this idiotic idea that cutting service will solve the decrease in rider problem. Um, it won't. A two year old could tell you that.

Posted by: JG55 | February 17, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

They should charge double for people using paper farecards or cash on metrobus. No service cuts. And pay and benefits for all of their employees should be frozen or cut.

Posted by: columbiaheights | February 17, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

A thousand times no on cutting service. I can't believe they're still even considering this. Cutting service means people, including me, ditch Metro and start driving everywhere.

Raise the rates.

As JG55 said, we've seen the misery that results from cuts in service. Last week was a very vivid illustration of what awaits us if that is the path Metro takes.

Raise the rates.

Posted by: tspack | February 17, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Raise the rates and they lose a customer.

Posted by: support6 | February 17, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

$2 minimum fare. $5 Max.

$2 Metrobus fare.

No on eliminating 8 car trains.

No dime for peak of peak.

Fire Catoe now.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | February 17, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

You really have a special thing for Catoe ALT, don't you? He's leaving in 2 months anyway. You really need your pound of flesh from everyone?

The only bad ideas I see are cutting the 8 car trains and cutting back to 30 minute service. There's no point in running trains only once every 30 minutes. Otherwise, yes, especially the Metrobus fare. That has been way undercharged for too long.

I love how everyone's idea for balancing the budget is to make other people poorer. As long as it's not my pocketbook, right?

Posted by: EricS2 | February 17, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Fares should be raised; service levels should be maintained during peak hours (the region needs MORE peak-hour transit and highway capacity, not less).

But rail service could be reduced in non-peak hours to save money, and hours could be reduced as well (esp. on weekends when ridership is low). Buses could provide more cost-effective service in those same corridors in low-use hours.

And ALT is right: getting rid of Catoe as quickly as possible would help. Metro will not be able to start repairing the damage of the disastrous Catoe era until he is finally out the door. The WMATA Board should have fired him last year; and he should have had the basic decency to resign immediately. His slow farewell is a needless obstacle to much-needed Metro reform.

Posted by: jrmil | February 17, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

"I love how everyone's idea for balancing the budget is to make other people poorer. As long as it's not my pocketbook, right?"

Well, who's pocket book are the increased fares coming out of?

Posted by: support6 | February 17, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Dr. G,
To expand on the idea of a surcharge for farecards, why not simplify the fare structure for them, to metro's advantage, in the process. It will encourage people to get SmarTrip cards, but also create revenue.
Instead of $1.65 to go two stops, $1.80 to go three, and so on, make it simple:

$2.00 to remain in the downtown core, or a few stops close in,
$3.00 from DC to close-in burbs
$4.00 from DC to exurban stops
$5.00 from one end to the other

add 50ยข at rush hour.

That way, there are only four fare options, they could even be color coded by the farecard machines. The SmarTrip fares would still more or less reflect the current fares.

I am already avoiding metro late nights and weekends, with the 20 minute headways. 8-car trains at rush hour is more of a safety issue than a comfort issue now.

Our buses are among the cheapest in the nation. Raise them to $1.50, PLEASE don't raise it to $1.45, so every cash paying customer has to dig out a minimum of three coins...

The three hour bus transfer is a boon to ridership, but I don't think it would save a lot to get rid of it.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | February 17, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

#1 Should the basic fare to board a train at rush hour be increased to $1.90?
Possibly. This seems somewhat ridiculous, but it's a difference of a quarter. I know percentages were tossed out earlier about how much a rate change this would be, but at the end of the day, it's still just a quarter.

#2 Should the maximum peak fare go to $5?
Possibly, for the same reason as #1. It's a mere 50 cent increase. We waste 50 cents all the time on trivial nonsensical things, so using that 50 cents for rail fare is not that bad.

#3 Should riders be charged an extra dime if they board at the peak of the peak?
Yes. Of course, the service must match the fare.

#4 Should the Metrobus fare go to $1.50?
Absolutely. In fact, I maintain that $1.50 is entirely too low. There is lots of politicking about bus fares, saying that "poor DC people" can't afford more. But yet, up in Baltimore (where people are arguably poorer), fares are higher. We can pony up a bit more for bus fare.

#5 Should the time allowed for free bus-to-bus transfers shrink from three hours to two?
Yes. This seems like a quick way to gain a little extra money.

#6 Should eight-car trains be eliminated at rush hour?
Absolutely not. This is a non-starter, and there should be nobody even considering this.

#7 Should the gaps between trains be increased to 15 minutes at midday on weekdays and to half an hour on weeknights?
What, like they've already been doing? No. Half hour headways are ridiculous. What's the point of providing service? Headways at night shouldn't drop below 15 minutes on any line. Midday ones at 15 are even worse than the nighttime ones.

#8 Should all northbound trains on the Yellow Line terminate at Mount Vernon Square?
Only if there is a corresponding increase of Green Line service to make up for it. The transfers to the Yellow Line can be made between Mt Vernon Square and L'Enfant Plaza, just as they do now.

#9 Should the trains start running a half hour later on weekdays and an hour later on weekends?
The half hour on weekdays seems to be not as bad, considering that service between 5 and 5:30 AM is pathetic at best. I think neither should happen, though.

Posted by: pikamander007 | February 17, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

How many of the people clamoring for fare increases have transportation subsidies?

Peak rail fares are already extremely high and extend for a huge swath of the morning and night, making it difficult to travel during reasonable hours without paying lots of money.

Increase the fares, but moderately. $1.90 for a base peak fare is too much.

I would be more in favor of finding other ways to raise money such as slightly higher charges for metrobus (didn't they avoid any fare increase last time?), during the post-midnight weekend hours, and for paper farecard holders.

Posted by: mbly | February 17, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Re #7, Gaps between trains:

If the lines aren't full on weekends, I'd have no problem with 30 minute gaps between trains. It's really just a shift in culture from an on-demand subway ("There better be a train coming by soon") to scheduled service ("I know the next train will be here at x:xx, so there's no need to leave home yet"). SEPTA train lines in Philly and S-bahn's in Germany, among many others, are like this, with 1 hour, or 30 minute gaps.

If Metro can actually keep a schedule, then you could plan that, for example, trains could leave New Carrollton at :10 and :40 after every hour. Plan around that, and it's not so bad.

If it saves money, I'm for it.

And then if Metro was really smart, they'd time the buses at major stations to arrive a few minutes before train departures, and then the system could actually work as a whole.

But maybe all that's too smart for Metro...

Posted by: Chris737 | February 17, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Yes to the fare increases. Buses should be a minimum of $1.50. I like the idea of four fare tiers for metro, which would eliminate multiple coins. The greater intervals would work ONLY if there were a predictable schedule - I'd know whether to linger elsewhere for the next train rather than rush to just see one leaving and be stuck in a dim station for 30 minutes.
Eliminate off-peak fares.
Keep the transfers valid for three hours, unless they come up with a system of changing from two to three in bad weather. When it takes an hour at Farragut West for a bus to come, by the time you've run an errand or two and wait again for an hour your transfer window has disappeared.
I'm not sure about the later starting times - does Metro have numbers for how many trips there are that early? Some of my suburban colleagues have to start work downtown at 0600 or 0630 and that includes a 15-30 minute walk to the station.
Charge more for paper cards and for cash on the bus, just don't do it in nickels and dimes. Time is also money.

Posted by: busgirl1 | February 17, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Raise daytime fares to match rush hour fares and close the system outside of working hours. If it can't get commuters to work on time and safely, it's not worth our attention right now.

Other than that, maybe trains should be shortened to 2 cars for the savings.

Posted by: member5 | February 17, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

"How many of the people clamoring for fare increases have transportation subsidies? "

Not me, I work for a nonprofit advocacy org, no subsidy here. I just rather live in a city where you can get places without being crammed into a metro car, and not have to wait 30 min between trains on the weekends/weeknights so we can have social lives. Rather pay more for that.

Posted by: JG55 | February 17, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

If normal intervals become 15-30 minutes between trains, what will the intervals be when there is track work (as there so often is)?

Posted by: DOEJN | February 17, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Instead of raising the maximum fare to $5, they should make lines other than the red line pay the current maximum fare of $4.50. That would equal more than the 11% increase they are proposing.

Posted by: dinanicole1 | February 17, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

# Should the basic fare to board a train at rush hour be increased to $1.90?
Yes. It's only a 25-cent increase. In fact, $2 might even be better (still in a reasonable range, but with some additional revenue).

# Should the maximum peak fare go to $5?
Yes, but for all operating hours, not just peak.

# Should riders be charged an extra dime if they board at the peak of the peak?
No (see above bullet).

# Should the Metrobus fare go to $1.50?
Yes. Bus riders should share in the increases, especially since comparable systems in nearby cities charge more than that.

# Should the time allowed for free bus-to-bus transfers shrink from three hours to two?
Yes. There is no reason that it should take 3 hours to transfer from one bus to another.

# Should eight-car trains be eliminated at rush hour?
Absolutely not.

# Should the gaps between trains be increased to 15 minutes at midday on weekdays and to half an hour on weeknights?
Midday: Yes; Weeknights: No

# Should all northbound trains on the Yellow Line terminate at Mount Vernon Square?
If DC is paying for the extended service (in its entirety), then no unless not terminating at Mt. Vernon slows service down.

# Should the trains start running a half hour later on weekdays and an hour later on weekends?
Weekdays: No; Weekends: Yes

Posted by: rjf3833 | February 18, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

No!! There has got to be a big change in the way Metro is funded. It's already too expensive and inconvenient unless you live within reasonable walking distance of a rail station. It's not competitive. A $5 fare each way + $3 to park adds up to in many cases even more than it would cost to just DRIVE (yes, there is gas, and depreciation, etc.) and park (many DC lots have $10 early bird rates) and then you don't have to deal with the hassle of Metro. Copy NYC and Chicago with fares as little as $2 from O'Hare to the Loop or similar ones in NYC and then we'd have an answer, but expecting people to pay premium prices for substandard (and now it appears increasingly dangerous) service is just going to "drive" people back into their cars!!

Posted by: indy474 | February 18, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Yes, sometimes traffic is bad, and parking can be expensive, but IMHO it beats spending $10+ to be crammed into a rail car with thousands of other people when the actual trip (driving to the Metro rail station & parking, or taking the bus to the rail station) also normally takes 30 or 45 minutes LONGER than just driving and costs the same or even more. Metro has got to have a much better cost saving to convince me. I'm sticking with my car, thanks.

Posted by: indy474 | February 18, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

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