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Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 04/28/2010

Fare hike loses more riders than necessary

By Washington Post editors

The most recent budget proposal from Metro's general manager makes great strides to reduce service cuts, but a recent letter from transit advocates argues that the proposed fare increase will still drain more riders than necessary.

The fare increase "follows the politically expedient approach of across-the-board fare increases," the letter contends. Yet 40 percent of peak riders work for federal agencies and get free transit. Peak trains and many buses are overcrowded while there's plenty of room at other times.

Therefore, it would be better to raise fares where riders can better afford it and are less likely to abandon transit -- and particularly where trains are already filled to capacity. It makes less sense to raise fares where there is already excess capacity and where projections estimate heavy losses in ridership.

Besides raising revenue, the letter, signed by Allen Greenberg of, Michael Perkins of Greater Greater Washington and Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, argues for targeting fare policy in ways that achieve four objectives:

Maximize the number of transit trips for each dollar of operating assistance;

Maximize use of existing capacity;

Collect revenue efficiently (e.g., increase SmarTrip card use to reduce system costs and operational delays); and

Maintain jurisdictional and social equity.

The advocates specifically recommend modifying the fare proposal in these ways:

Charge $0.50 for peak-of-the-peak trips (during the busiest 1½ hours in the morning and evening rush) instead of $0.10 as proposed by Metro's general manager. However, apply this charge only to rail trips that traverse the congested core. This would encourage peak riders in the busiest areas to ride when trains are a bit less crowded.

Charge $0.25 for peak-of-the-peak trips on bus during the same time as the peak-of-the-peak rail surcharge. This would prevent riders from shifting from rail to bus and also spread peak bus ridership. To avoid double-charging customers who transfer, increase the transfer discount by $0.25 during the peak-of-the-peak time.

Increase the differential between cash and SmarTrip payment on buses beyond the current and small $0.10. This would discourage cash payment and significantly speed boardings.

Concentrate parking price increases at stations that fill up and that have waiting lists for monthly reserved parking, rather than simply raising charges across the board by $0.50 per day and $5 for reserved. For example, charge $1.15 more for lots with 100% or higher utilization, $0.50 for lots with utilization rates between 85 and 100 percent, and zero for less-congested lots. Similarly, increase monthly reserved parking by $10 where there are waiting lists, but zero elsewhere.

Scale back the proposed $4 flat fare for Metrorail after midnight, which creates a strong disincentive for short-range late-night riders to take rail when cabs would be cheaper, especially for large groups. Instead, return to the Catoe proposal to charge the peak rush-hour fare at night.

The letter does commend some fare proposals, including creating a differential between paper farecards and SmartTrip on rail, reducing transfer periods to two hours, raising fares on airport buses, and MetroAccess fare changes.

[Continue reading David Alpert's post from Greater Greater Washington here].

David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington . The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Washington Post editors  | April 28, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network, Metro, transportation  
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