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Metro's peak of the pique

Metrorail riders who commute at the busiest times of the day are going to pay more -- and more. They're going to pay a new peak fare. Then in all likelihood, they are going to pay a surcharge on that fare.

There are a lot of smart people who think this is a fine idea. I wish I were that smart. I can explain their reasoning, about raising money to avoid service cuts while spreading out the train crowds somewhat. It's congestion pricing -- very modern. But I'm old-fashioned. It still sounds like price gouging to me.

We're talking about the people riding from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m. That's half of the peak period boardings, according to Metro. (Peak period is 5 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.) They probably will pay 10 cents, 20 cents, or possibly as much as 50 cents more than the peak fare.

So who are these peak of the peakers? While you're thinking, sing along:

Jump in the shower, and the blood starts pumpin'
Out on the streets, the traffic starts jumpin'

Yeah. You.

Maybe you remember back in that job interview, when your new boss said, "We'd love to have you with us. Now, what hours can you work?" And you said, "Well, boss, I've always thought of myself as a 9 to 5 person. And that's my final offer."

Maybe not. Maybe the boss just said, "Here's your desk, and I expect to see your smilin' face at 9 a.m., Monday through Friday."

In planning for the new surcharge, Metro is applying these principles:
-- Charge riders in periods of peak demand to reduce system-wide congestion.
-- Generate extra fare revenue.
-- Apply peak-of-peak pricing to spread out loads during the peak, and affect as few other riders as possible.

Since Metro hasn't done this type of fare before, transit planners are going with what they consider to be conservative assumptions about how riders will respond. Still, they figure they can meet all their goals.

Some commuters will shift out of prime time. They are likely to be the ones who ride at the shoulder times. For example, if you arrive on the platform now at 7:35 a.m., you might want to get there at 7:20 a.m. instead. If your homeward trip usually begins at 5:55 p.m., you could wait until 6:05 p.m. (Plenty of people wait outside the fare gates now, staring up at the digital clock till the fares change.)

The higher the peak of the peak fare, the greater the number of people who would decide to change their riding pattern.

Still, riders in the middle of the peak are unlikely to change their behavior, or be able to change their behavior. That's most of the 9 to 5 riders. If the surcharge is 10 cents, Metro estimates 230,000 daily riders will pay it. If the surcharge is 20 cents, Metro estimates that 200,000 daily riders will pay it. In either of those two surcharge scenarios -- the most likely scenarios -- Metro estimates very few riders would abandon transit, perhaps as few as 3,300 under the 20 cent surcharge.

Meanwhile, the surcharge would raise a lot of money: $4.5 million with a 10 cent charge and $7.7 million with a 20 cent charge. The money could be used to pay for things like eliminating the proposed 50 cent increase in daily parking, or to maintain the 3 a.m. closing time on weekends.

But is it fair to target 9 to 5 people as a category for the sake of easing the burden on drivers or weekend partiers as a category? The Metro board hasn't really discussed this.

Metro's board of directors is scheduled to discuss the new operating budget proposal at 9 a.m. Thursday at Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, D.C.

[For a good defense of the peak of the peak concept, see Craig Simpson's review on Greater Greater Washington.]

By Robert Thomson  |  May 11, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget, Metro fares, Metrorail  
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40% of Metro's riders are Feds and do not pay at all for their metro ride. They will not shift their commute one bit.

That is why they have been screaming for a fare hike and not service reductions. This is unfair for those that actually pay for their fare, whether pre-tax or totally out of pocket.

Posted by: member8 | May 11, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I'm one of those out-of-pocket riders and I'm completely stuck. The Dr. is right, this is price gouging as plain as day. A 20 cent surcharge is an extra $2.00 per week or $104. This is wrong!

Posted by: wb1313 | May 11, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm one of those out-of-pocket riders and I'm completely stuck. The Dr. is right, this is price gouging as plain as day. A 20 cent surcharge is an extra $2.00 per week or $104. This is wrong!

Posted by: wb1313 | May 11, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Adding $0.20 to the current fares brings my daily ride to $7.50 roundtrip. My husband works down the street from me, and for both of us that means it'd be a solid $15 *per day* to use Metro. That would be $75 per week, or, in an average (22-workday) month, $330.

The trip used to run 45 minutes door-to-door but now runs between 1:05 and 1:30 door-to-door. Meanwhile, if we carpool, we're generally 55 minutes door-to-door, and we spend $25 a week on gas, and parking at his office is paid for by his employer. Even if gas prices go up and we spend $35 or $40 a week on gas... Metro would have to restore service to *better* than 2008 levels in order to be worthwhile anymore.

I'm annoyed, because I chose where we live mainly for its proximity to Metro. I'm a fan of trains and of mass transit, and I'm seriously missing all of the time I used to have to read... but it's not worth losing hundreds of dollars a month or losing over an extra hour a day of my time.

So, sorry Metro. Sure, I'll pay it on the days I use transit to get home, if our schedules don't sync up, but those days are going to keep getting farther and farther apart.

Posted by: EtoilePB | May 11, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I am a pre-tax smartbenefits rider and will end up paying this stupid surcharge. I don't like it at all, but I know that I will need to continue riding Metro.

My ongoing concern is the change in smartbenefits that is coming. This peak-of-peak fare will only make it more difficult to estimate monthly Metro fares for those of us who will use or lose our smartbenefits money.

Dr. Gridlock, why isn't anyone talking about making the use or lose an annual occurance like an FSA? The problem is trying to guesstimate and adjust smartbenefits amounts monthly. If we only had to adjust one time at the end of the year it would be so much simpler for everyone, including Metro.

Posted by: SweetieJ | May 11, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I thought that (at least with rush/non rush) you'd be charged the higher of the two rates no matter when you entered/exited. So if you got on at 2:45 and off at 3:30 you'd be paying rush rates even though when you entered it was non rush.

So in your example if you got on at 7:20 you'd be charged the peak rate because you'd be getting off during the peak time.

Am I wrong or is something changing?

Even if workers can shift their schedule a bit to avoid the peak rate on one side unless they work 9 hour days AND have a long commute there is little way to avoid it on both ends. I do and have a long commute and I can avoid it on one end but to avoid it on the other I'd have to get up even earlier to get to the station at least 20 minutes earlier.

Posted by: archers44 | May 11, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I'm not looking forward to these increased fares. But I'd much rather pay them (and alter my travel plans where possible) than have the service reductions they're forestalling.

Posted by: jeffq | May 11, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Well, let's see here. Without the surcharge:
$6.40 round trip (WFC to McPherson Sq.) + $4.50 parking = $11. The trip takes me about 50 minutes each way.

Compared with $2.40 in gas + $11 parking = $13.40, and a 30 minute commute.

Already, I usually drive because Metro is so much slower than driving. With a surcharge, I really see no point in ever taking Metro. Metro is completely useless.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | May 11, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I was always under the impression that you pay based on when you enter the system.

Posted by: thetan | May 11, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

thetan, correct. You pay when you enter, and it should be according to the clock ontop of the station "manager's" booth.

If I arrive at 6:55 and I see the next train is in 8 minutes, I'll wait outside the faregates.

If I arrive at 6:58, the next train is 2, and after that say 15, I'm going right through and willing to pay "Regular" fare.

Posted by: member8 | May 11, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Member8 has a good point. Federal employees don't have any skin in the game, so there's less pushback when Metro raises fares.

In effect, Metro gets to help itself to the taxpayer's money.

Maybe if Uncle Sam refused to pay for the surcharge, then there would be more resistance to these constant fare hikes.

Posted by: pmendez | May 11, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I honestly don't understand why Metro doesn't do an overall hike and then a surcharge (heck make it a dollar) on everyone riding the rails BETWEEN rushhour and after 1am or something. That will target the drunks (who will be, um, too drunk to notice) and will target tourists, and honestly, who cares about them. They'll pay it instead of walk or drive or taxi. Instead, Metro chooses to squueze every penny our of its most loyal customers, the non govt. worker commuter. Shame on metro for not thinking creatively.

Posted by: JG55 | May 11, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Actually after 1am will target bar workers too, kinda harsh. Just target the tourists with a hefty fare hike by having a surcharge between rushhour, and then maybe a tiny one late at night. But to just go after rush hour commuters is pretty darn evil by metro.

Posted by: JG55 | May 11, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I don't believe the citizens of DC/MD/VA are willing to pay these extremely high fares and still getting such terrible service from Metro. I say let's picket Metro for a few days (no ridership) then see what kind of response we will receive in terms of quality service.

Posted by: daughterofold | May 11, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Looks like I'll be taking the bus from Rosslyn to WFC to catch the Connector.

Posted by: jckdoors | May 11, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Why shouldn't metro get creative and try this? In addition to an overall increase in base fares they should place a surcharge for the "peak of peak." This is the point where demand far outweighs supply. It also happens to be the point at which they make their highest profit margin for the services provided.

Its a transportation agency and it needs to break even not continually lose money or continually go back to the jurisdictions in which it resides (i.e. MD, DC, VA) and ask for additional funding.

Posted by: chass80 | May 11, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Will Metro guarantee "peak of the peak" service? (eg: 2 minutes between 8-car trains?) Of course not. Always excuses from Metro and the same corporate line of BS from Ms. Farbstein.

Posted by: nocando | May 11, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

For us, Metro is currently 4x3.45 = $13.80/day x 22 days/month = $303.60 - $60 subsidy from work each month = $243.60/month or $11.07, each day.

Parking is $12/day on a monthly pass, and because the car is on a lease, depreciation is already set, and gas is maybe $1/day. $13 to drive in.

They're now talking about raising base peak fares by about 50c, and peak of the peak fares by 20c on top of that. We can probably avoid the outbound peak of the peak, so we're looking at $3.45x2 + $0.50x2 + $0.20, or $8.10 each x 2 = $16.20. Even with the subsidy, that works out to $14.84 - and I gain reliability, safety, comfort, convenience and timeliness. Goodbye Metro, and good riddance.

Posted by: vnangia | May 11, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

In addition to the increase, charge 25 cents more for parking at Metro facilities and get DC to add a 50 cents per day parking tax dedicated to transit funding. This will help keep people out of their cars and on Metro. Also will allow Metro and other transit like DC Circulator to have some financial breathing room. Maybe even get some more people out of their cars (now that we're back to $3.00 gas)

Posted by: blankspace | May 11, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Time to move back into the city. I work at a non-prof - and can't afford 50$ a week to get to work. I can't change my hours so I have to pay more. Goodness gracious, METRO sucks. So I'll save to move to DC, or to buy a car. Maybe I'll pick up some slugs, and make money like Metro can't. Incompetent morons.

Posted by: Greent | May 11, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I've spent a lot of time studying congestion pricing and have found that effective systems vary their prices in much smaller intervals than 90 minutes. The HOT lanes on I-15 in San Diego dynamically update prices as frequently as every 5 minutes.

Metro needs to know its traffic on intervals of 15 minutes or smaller before it decides to impose surcharges. I can't make any definitive claims but I do know that when riding the Red Line from Union Station (having arrived by VRE) to Bethesda, ridership is much denser 8-8:30 than it is 8:30-9:00.

Posted by: rusholmeruffian | May 11, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Congestion pricing is intended to MANAGE or REDUCE congestion by providing a financial incentive to prevent or relieve congestion.

Since the majority of riders during these 90 minute rush hour peaks cannot change their schedules, Dr. Gridlock is correct: this is simply price gouging, intended to gouge a captive audience that CANNOT change its behavior.

So glad I drive now.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | May 11, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Mass transit in general is a complete sham. Cheaper and quicker to drive than take Metro, MARC, or Amtrak. Service cuts have also elminated any advantage to living in the city. When trains are far and few in between they are impossible to board once crossing into DC; at least on the Red Line. Pair this with parking costs and fare hikes for those in the suburbs and you should get less congestion, but just because no one is willing to get humped and sweat on for over an hour each day.

Posted by: djones13 | May 11, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Mass transit in general is a complete sham. Cheaper and quicker to drive than take Metro, MARC, or Amtrak. Service cuts have also elminated any advantage to living in the city. When trains are far and few in between they are impossible to board once crossing into DC; at least on the Red Line. Pair this with parking costs and fare hikes for those in the suburbs and you should get less congestion, but just because no one is willing to get humped and sweat on for over an hour each day.

Posted by: djones13 | May 11, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

i gave up on metro a few months ago and driving has made me so much happier. way less stressful. i wouldn't even have minded paying more for metro, but i felt (still feel) as though it could not consistently get me to work on time. seems like they want to charge more and more money and service just keeps getting worse. good riddance metro. i don't miss you at all.

Posted by: geneticcounselor2 | May 11, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

If they're trying to ease congestion with the fare hike, they may do that, as many people will decide it's cheaper to drive. If they're trying to raise funds, well, I just figured out I can take one or two Metro buses for just $1.35 each way for a commute of the same length as rail, and save $58 per month (before the fare hike). I just prefer the smoother ride on the train.

In a couple years my employer will offer a parking space or a comparable amount towards Metro fare - at this rate it'll be a pretty easy decision. Free parking, door to door ride, and always a seat available. I'll just have to pick up some books on cd rather than reading.

Posted by: lilkender | May 11, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Metro will no doubt handle this complicated pricing scheme with the seamless efficiency we're all used to with everything Metro.

Posted by: unsuckdcmetro | May 11, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I am just sick over these Metro fare hikes. How did it come to this? How did the valued Metrorail rider become the scapegoat for Metrorail's ills and institutional decay? Who will reverse this black, terrible tide of destruction of what was once good -- for all?

Posted by: dcjlm2003 | May 11, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

As a non-Metro rider, my thought is that if riders are not getting an additional benefit from the increased fare (more frequent or efficient service), the authority should have no right to charge it. Metro is proposing to charge an additional surcharge for traveling the system during specific time, yet they offer no benefit to those who pay. Therefore, the "surcharge" is not really a "surcharge," since users get nothing from it. Congestion pricing is a fad concept, and will not work in this city.

Posted by: Russtinator | May 11, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Maybe they can implement an "escalator surcharge" too, airline-gouging style. "Oh, so you want an escalator that actually MOVES? That will be $0.25, where's your SmarTrip card please..."

Posted by: nocando | May 11, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I say again if we have to pay peak fare, then we should get peak rush hour level of service. That is NOT true of the 8:20-9am time block. That has NOT been true of that time block since the trains went on manual.

Posted by: DrMeglet | May 11, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

All of you folks compare Metro vs driving your cars. There are other means of getting there. For riders of a few miles a day, there are bike paths, taxis, walking, etc.

You can augment those with one other step never connected before; voting Fenty out.

What's the connection? He killed the only green taxicab system in the entire country. A system in which cabs could be shared without imposition on sharing riders. Now in a span of about 2 years under the metered system, not only the number of cabs increased, but also all kinds of car services have popped up everywhere. Just look at all the dark cars parked in front of the prominent hotels, etc. Add to them all the disenchanted Metro riders who like to drive and you WILL HAVE Gridlock, literally!

Posted by: freedriver | May 12, 2010 1:41 AM | Report abuse

There is an easy solution: privatize metro, fire the over-payed quasi-government and union workers. Require the recompete for their jobs. That will reduce Metro's high labor costs. Also, when Metro's employees get caught stealing in the future, Metro can actually fire them with out bending over to the unions.

Plus, the Board could hold Metro accountable for once. Now if we could privatize the board...

Posted by: JamesKlink | May 13, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Instead of encouraging people to use public transportation to ease the traffic problems, the environmental problems and the economical problems, they tax them more for using public transportation. Public transportation should be subsidized and part of the general government expenses to make ours a better society and a better country. This is shameful.

Posted by: hpalchik | May 13, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

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