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Metro juggles regional interests

Metro probably will keep its night-owl rail service on weekends, its bus-rail transfer discounts and its current charge for daily parking. Metrorail riders probably will pay a surcharge to ride at the height of rush hour and those night owls will pay peak fares. All riders are likely to pay more to ride Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess.

That's the sense of what came out of Thursday's meeting of the Metro board finance committee. Don't lock in your personal transportation budget based on what I just said, because the full board still must vote on all its budget-balancing proposals, but discussion in the finance committee is usually a good gauge of what's going to happen.

First, the transit staff outlined why it needs the board to make decisions: There must be a balanced budget -- at least on paper -- as of July 1. The staff is counting on starting most fare increases and service cuts on June 27. If that gets delayed, the budget gets out of balance again and more revenue or cuts will be needed.

Then the board members went after the staff and one another. Each board member was defending the interests of his or her jurisdiction. For example, Jim Graham of the District wants to protect the late-night hours on weekends, because that's good for the D.C. bar and entertainment business. He also hates proposals to cut bus service, as does Chris Zimmerman of Arlington. Catherine Hudgins and Jeff McKay of Fairfax don't want the daily parking rates to rise, because that hurts suburban commuters who park at the outer stations and take long, expensive Metrorail rides.

They need to trade things, so no class of riders gets hurt too badly because of the budget problems. They also need to show where the money will come from to cover whatever service or fare it is that they want to protect.

What you don't get out of all this, as Zimmerman pointed out, is an overall sense of a fare and service policy: What are the overall goals of Washington's transit service and how are fares set and services aligned to achieve those goals?

Train riders will want to pay close attention to the continuing debate over the proposed peak of the peak surcharge. I think the board is very likely to approve the surcharge. It would be added to the peak rail fare between 7:30 and 9 a.m. and between 4:30 and 6 p.m. The peak of the peak charge could be anything from 10 cents to 50 cents. Rail riders probably would start paying this extra charge in August, rather than June 27, because the fare gate technology still has to catch up.

Here are some issues regarding the peak of the peak fare:
-- It's probably going to be used in part to subsidize the night-owl riders and the station parkers.
-- It's meant in part to encourage riders to travel at less congested times. But it's unclear how many people who ride during those hours really can travel earlier or later. You can tell from the hours involved that we're talking about many commuters who don't have the luxury of setting their own schedules.
-- If you're one of those long-distance riders, you avoid the proposed 50 cent parking increase, but you might wind up paying as much as 50 cents extra for this peak of the peak surcharge as well as the amount the board finally approves for a regular fare increase.
-- Metro doesn't have much experience with the surcharge idea, so the finance staff doesn't know with any certainty how much extra money will be raised. It adds a degree of uncertainty to the budget process.

The peak of the peak fare is likely to become one of the main issues among riders as this budget heads toward resolution.

By Robert Thomson  |  April 29, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, MetroAccess, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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[[It would be added to the peak rail fare between 7:30 and 9 a.m. and between 4:30 and 6 p.m. ... But it's unclear how many people who ride during those hours really can travel earlier or later. You can tell from the hours involved that we're talking about many commuters who don't have the luxury of setting their own schedules.]]

Yeah. You'd have to start work either at 7:00 or 10:00 a.m. in order to avoid that "peak of the peak." And although a lot of jobs have some flex time, generally still most workers start between 7:45 and 9:30. And everyone knows it. This isn't meant to change patterns; it's meant to profit from immutable ones.

Posted by: EtoilePB | April 29, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Peak of peak violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment because 40% of the riders do not pay their metro fare as it is paid by the federal government, thus they have no incentive to adjust their schedule. Just up their monthly transit benefit allowance.

Posted by: member8 | April 29, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I think peak of the peak should end at 8:30am. If I can board a yellow train to Ft. Totten at 8:40am, it doesn't seem like rush hour to me any more. Also, trains after 8:30am are significantly farther apart for transfers than ones before then. Both at the end of morning rush hour and evening rush hour, there seems to be a lot of occasions where there are two blues, then a yellow, and similar less than ideal spacing on other lines (when you may wish to transfer). I have seen 3 greens, then a yellow at Mt. Vernon Square.

I wonder how metro will handle the signage for fares including this extra peak of the peak. I'm sure it will confuse non-regular riders to no end.

Posted by: DrMeglet | April 29, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

If I pay for rush hour fares, I want a train at least every 5 minutes. There are lots of times when this doesn't happen and the fare increase isn't justified.

Posted by: ashdaleuf | April 29, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

It's not the peak of the peak that are costing the system money, which makes the whole idea inane. Unfortunately, there's a need for nighttime metro too and thus the local governments really need to step up to the plate to help the tool that drives the region economically.

Posted by: wb1313 | April 29, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

How come every time I stop at the Metro Center station someone asks me for a dollar?

Posted by: RockRed | April 29, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

As long as they dont have waits longer than 5 minutes in between trains during this "peak of the peak" then, it can be called fair.

But they cant charge even more than they are now and have 8 or 9 minute waits. It makes it impossible to board trains.

EXP: Try boarding an orange line train at Foggy Bottom between 5 15 and 6 30 if the wait has been more than 5 minutes. No chance you can get on the train b/c everyone packs on from Metro center, mcpherson and farragut.

Posted by: m1ke3i6 | April 29, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

DEDICATED FUNDING NOW! hey VA AND MD...stop repaving roads for 7 days and find a way to dedicate funding for Metro

Posted by: destewar | April 29, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

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