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Where Metro is going on fares

The transit authority staffers need to make sure that revenues cover expenses. The Metro board members must worry about that, too, but they also need to make sure that their constituents -- riders and taxpayers -- are protected.

For weeks, the staff has been pressing the board to make a decision about the fare increase portion of the budget plan. It needs that guidance because it takes a couple of months to adjust the fare system mechanics and software and change many thousands of signs. They want it all in place by June 27, so the fare increases can start about when the budget year starts, which is July 1.

They also want to collect the higher fares from the hundreds of thousands of people who will ride during the July 4 holiday period. And they'd like it a lot if the fare machinery worked properly. Regular riders will be in a bad mood about the fare increases, and the staff doesn't want the mood worsened by problems using the system.

But board members -- after forcefully advocating the interests of bus riders, rail riders, parkers, commuters and weekend partiers -- couldn't give the staffers everything they wanted to accomplish their goals.

Instead, they kicked the can containing their disagreements down the road. The finance committee did vote to send the full board a complete proposal for fare increases, including a 20 cent version of the peak of the peak surcharge. But as D.C. representative Jim Graham's no vote make clear, the full board can do anything it wants with that proposal.

What do the staffers and the riders know now about the final outcome?

Peak of the peak. Metro board members seemed inclined to go for this surcharge, to be imposed at the height of rush hour. The proposal adopted in the finance committee says it will be 20 cents. So a rider going a long distance at rush hour could pay the maximum fare plus the surcharge for a total fare of $5.20. But the board still can fight over whether the surcharge should be lowered to 10 cents, raised as high as 50 cents, apply systemwide for an hour and a half in the morning and afternoon or be restricted to one hour during each rush.

Other Metrorail fares. The board almost certainly will raise fares 15 percent. The basic boarding fare at peak periods would go to $1.90. The basic boarding fare at off-peak hours would go to $1.55.

Metrobus fares. The basic fare could rise 20 percent to $1.50. That's more than some board members, including Graham, would like. So look for more fighting over this fare.

Other bus fares. There's discussion about increasing the differential that favors payment with SmarTrip over payment with cash. Right now the differential is 10 cents. This policy has been very effective in getting riders to move to SmarTrip. Only 15 percent of bus riders pay with cash, Metro says. The proposal also would increase the fare on the airport Metrobuses to $6. That's a 94 percent increase, and board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington isn't crazy about it. He notes that many riders on the Dulles-bound 5A are commuters, not air travelers.

MetroAccess. The fare would stay at twice the comparable base bus fare, but if the bus fare increases, that means a proportional increase in the paratransit fare.

Bike lockers. People who rent Metro's 1,200 bike lockers face a 186 percent increase in the yearly rental fee to $200. Zimmerman doesn't like that one, either.

Parking fees. There's no increase in daily parking fees in this proposal, and Jeff McKay of Fairfax said he won't vote for a budget that revives the idea of a 50-cent increase. The fee for monthly reserved parking would increase $5 to $60.

Transfers. The 50-cent discount is likely to remain, but the transfer window is likely to be shortened from three hours to two hours.

Night-owl service. The proposal maintains 3 a.m. service on weekends, but raises the fare from off-peak to peak.

Service cuts. The Thursday debate focused on fare increases rather than service cuts, because the staff said it needed guidance on the fares. But some board members, including Zimmerman and Graham, were uncomfortable about dividing this discussion. Zimmerman, for example, still wants the jurisdictions to raise their Metro financial contributions to avoid cuts.

Battlegrounds. Still to come are board battles over whether bus riders should face a higher rate increase than rail riders. The peak of the peak debate did not get heated, but there were discussions about limiting the hours and raising the surcharge, as well as about whether the surcharge should be systemwide or confined to the congested core. Some board members will really dig in their heels on maintaining late-night service and holding down parking fees.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 13, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, MetroAccess, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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Comments

My current 1.95 fare will rise to 2.75 with a 15% hike and 50cent PotP surcharge.

That's an increase of 41%. What am I going to gain from that? Bring on the service cuts.

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | May 13, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Some of these board members act as though they are ELECTED to the board and they are running for reelection.

Your are appointed to your position. You are appointed to do a job. Either do that job or resign.

Posted by: ceebee2 | May 13, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Board members SHOULD be elected by the riders.

And raise the damn minimum to $2. Why the complex formula? We're wasting money on accountants and consultants.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | May 14, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

With my $3.65 fare from New Carrollton to Farragut West about to jump to $4.20 each way (plus parking), it's now a lot more cost-effective to drive and pay a parking garage. So long, orange line!

Posted by: Springmoon | May 14, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

@anarcho-liberal-tarian--

You might be able to make a case for having an elected board. However, the majority of voters don't use Metro so you can hardly say the board would be elected by the riders.

Another problem is who gets to vote (as in where do you draw the lines)? Inside the outer boundaries of Montgomery, Prince George's, and Fairfax Counties? There are a lot of regular riders in the outlying counties. Shouldn't those counties have a vote? What about the people who ride VRE from beyond Fredericksburg or MARC from Baltimore and beyond and West Virginia who use Metro after the get to DC? Should they have a vote?

Are the members going to all be at-large (everyone votes on everyone) or are they going to be representing a particular jurisdiction? If it is the latter, I'm afraid we'll have more of the gridlock that we have now.

I don't have a solution. I just know the board as it is currently constructed has outlived its useful life. Something needs to be done with it, I'm just not sure what.

Posted by: ceebee2 | May 14, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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