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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 06/24/2010

Metro dodges the death spiral

By Dan Malouff

At approximately 2:25 this afternoon, the WMATA board approved next year's budget, including the assortment of fare hikes that were proposed in May and designed to maintain the system and avoid cuts to service. The fare hikes include across-the-board increases, as well as a new "peak of the peak" surcharge for riders at the height of rush hour.

Given increasing costs and decreasing revenue, WMATA was faced with the same decision that every transit agency in America faced in the decades following World War II. Then, confronted with rising costs and fewer riders, most transit agencies tried to limit their fare increases by cutting service. Naturally, fewer people used transit when it became less convenient. That caused further rounds of service cuts, which compounded one after another in a death spiral that resulted in transit almost completely disappearing from many cities.

Faced with the possibility of a similar death spiral, WMATA's board heeded the lessons of history and made the difficult decision to maintain as high a level of service as possible. The only way to do so was with higher fares.

Given Metro's problems, it's tempting to ask why we should pay more for a system that isn't delivering on its promises as well as it used to. That's a fair point, but imagine how much more poorly Metro would perform if it were further starved of funds.

In the short term, these fare hikes are paying for more frequent buses, longer trains and extended service hours as compared with the drastically slimmed-down system WMATA would have to put in place without them. In the long term, and with other necessary changes, these fare hikes are paying for the future existence of our Metrorail network.

Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at 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 Dan Malouff  | June 24, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Metro, transportation  
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I haven't taken Metro in two months. I walk the six blocks now. Not worth $2, especially as undependable as it is.

Posted by: gbooksdc | June 24, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

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