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Metro's seven fare principles

During a recent discussion of all the fare increase proposals now before the Metro board, the transit staff laid out the seven fare policy concepts that are supposed to guide the decision-making this spring.


The debate has gotten so complicated -- shall we add a surcharge on peak-of-the-peak travel, shall we cut the bus transfer time, shall we raise bus fares at a higher rate than rail fares -- that I thought it would be helpful just to present the ideas that are supposed to be evident in the results.

On Thursday, we'll probably learn how well the board does at meeting these goals.
1. Charge rail fares based on distance traveled.
2. Charge more for premium service.
3. Maximize the use of existing capacity.
4. Facilitate movement between modes (bus-to-rail and rail-to-bus) and also
between Metro and jurisdictional bus and commuter rail systems.
5. Provide discounted fares for some riders.
6. Collect revenue in a cost-effective manner.
7. Slow the growth of MetroAccess service.

Now, the board can do whatever it wants on specific fare increases and service changes, within the broad bounds of what was included in the notice about the public hearings several months ago. But these seem like a decent set of goals.

The one that I think many readers here will react to, because of the wording, is "Charge more for premium service." I think to Metro the definition of premium is when the most trains are put on the lines. Many riders here and in my Dr. Gridlock column say that Metro does not often hit the mark of what they consider "premium" service.

[See the Fare Calculator for guidance on what you could wind up paying for a ride under the main proposals that Metro board members are considering.]

By Robert Thomson  |  May 26, 2010; 3:53 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, MetroAccess service cuts fare increases, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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I think "premium service" should adhere to the principle of "you pay more, so you get more." For example, if you buy a business-class, first-class, or (until 2003) Concorde ticket out of Heathrow, you get to use the "Fast Track" security and passport queues, which speed you past most of the people. In the mass transit context, the old JFK Express "Train to the Plane" in New York was a stab at "premium service" in that after leaving Manhattan it only made a single stop in Brooklyn (Jay Street) and then ran non-stop to Howard Beach. (Downside was you had to take a shuttle bus from there to the terminals.) The Heathrow Express is a fine current example of "premium service" in that it costs £16.50, versus £4.50 on the Tube's Piccadilly Line, but takes only 20 minutes from Paddington to Heathrow Terminal 5 versus the Tube taking an hour from Central London to T5.

What I find amusing is the way WMATA's attitude has evolved over the years. Originally you had "rush hour" and "non-rush hour" fares. Simple enough. Then they changed it to saying that the rush-hour fares were "regular fares" and the other hours were "reduced fares." That suggests to me that the service at rush hour is the "regular" service that you should expect and that other times of the day you get "reduced" service. Now they want to talk about "premium" service WITHOUT MAKING ANY CHANGES TO THE SERVICE. That's utter bollocks. Call a spade a spade and say it like it is.

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 26, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Premium? We rarely even get peak service. Do I get a refund when there's a 10 minute gap between "premium" trains that should be 3-4 minutes apart?

Posted by: seraphina21 | May 26, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

"Charge more for premium service."
How does Metro define premium service?

Posted by: alterego3 | May 26, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Premium Service? You sure this is not a typo by one of their $1000/day consultants?

I'm sure what they really meant was Standing Room Only service.

Surely people are willing to pay MORE for that.

Posted by: b1978367 | May 26, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Metro needs competition. They have gotten too complacent in being the only only transit system in town. Let's get some outside bus companies to challenge them on price and performance. Can't do much about the train because of the investment, but someone else can take over the bus service so they can concentrate on the trains.

Posted by: Carole5520 | May 26, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm with other commenters. I don't understand what is meant by "premium service"?

Running trains more frequently at rush hour hardly qualifies as "premium service." Running more trains and buses at rush hour is *normal* for big cities. How does normal transit provider response to demand qualify as premium? The Metro trains at rush hour certainly aren't more reliable or cleaner than the one that run in off peak hours. In short, what does Metro do at rush that differentiates it from any other normal big city transit authority? Nothing.

An example of premium service which justifies higher fares is express bus service from Manhattan to Staten Island on big, comfy intercity buses as opposed to even regular limited or express buses which have typical city transit hard seats and standing room only conditions.

As to all he proposals for peak of the peak, regular peak, blah blah blah, they are too complicated for anyone to remember. On Metro just charge the same fare all day, again like normal transit systems. I agree w/the commenter who traced the change from rush/non-rush to this euphemistic "reduced fare" nonsense.

Presumably, the off peak fares were instituted when Metro was new to stimulate off peak travel. Judging by how crowded trains are between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 pm on weekdays, I think that the need for lower off peak fares has outlived its usefulness.

Posted by: RockvilleBear | May 26, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

I was under the impression that WMATA meant "premium" as in "scarce commodity that commands a higher price", as in, "Space on a rush-hour train is at a premium". This directly drives the rationale for peak and peak-of-peak rates.

Having more more and longer trains running actually reduces *that* premium; the higher customer satisfaction is only a happy by-product. But clearly, by encouraging riders to spread out their transits during peak, Metro hopes to trade lower peak-of-peak (premium) revenue for less crowding and better passenger comfort.

Of course, that won't save them from the folly of choosing an ambiguous term like "premium", one that obviously means exactly the opposite of their intent from riders' point of view.

Posted by: jeffq | May 27, 2010 4:35 AM | Report abuse

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