Metro may a regionwide system, but its rail riders tend to think of themselves as patrons of a particular line. Tonight, when the transit authority holds the first of its fare increase hearings in Virginia,Orange Line riders probably will dominate the discussion.
They may want to know about plans to ease the Orange Crush they experience each weekday morning or about the maintenance program that sometimes splits their line or at least requires trains to share tracks on weekends.
The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School cafeteria, 7130 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church. Because of the location and the timing, it’s unlikely to draw many commuters who live farther west and might be more likely to complain about the size of the proposed fare increases.
The fare increases the Metro board is considering average about 5 percent, but the impact is greater on those who drive to the outer stations, pay to park, then take a long ride to work and back.
While the school is within walking distance of the West Falls Church Metrorail station and several bus stops, people who live far to the west and have worked a long day aren’t inclined to interrupt the evening commute by offering formal testimony about their anger with the service.
That’s certainly understandable, but it is a shame that more people don’t take the time to speak directly with Metro’s senior managers in charge of the service and the board members who approve the fare increases.
At the first of the six hearings, the one Monday night in Bethesda, Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) channeled the concerns of the long-range riders, who would pay 25 cents more for daily parking as well as the Metrorail fare increase.
“I oppose WMATA’s excessive reliance on the increases to balance its proposed FY13 operating budget,” he said. “For example, WMATA proposes to increase the peak fare from Shady Grove to Metro Center by 15 percent from $5 to $5.75, or 20 percent, from $5 to $6,” he said, noting the proposals that would raise Metrorail’s maximum fare to either $5.75 or $6.
“That would be an increase of approximately $350 a year for the 15 percent increase or approximately $465 a year for the proposed 20 percent increase.”
Andrews urged the transit authority to curb its personnel costs, particularly the pension cost the Metro covers completely rather than requiring employee contributions.
“It is crucial that WMATA get a handle on spiraling pension costs before they crowd out even more of the operating budget and create additional pressure for fare increases or increased operating subsidies from local jurisdictions.”
Others who testified on behalf of Metro users urged those jurisdictions to kick in more money so riders wouldn’t have to.
Ben Ross, representing the Transit First! coalition of transit advocates, noted that “The riders are frankly fed up with some of the current situations on Metro,” such as the service interruptions and escalator outages that plagued the Bethesda station on Monday morning.
“Two years ago, riders said, ‘We’d rather pay higher fares” for the sake of better service, Ross testified. “This time, local jurisdictions should match that commitment.”
Metro management, in the midst of an aggressive repair program for the rail system, should set a timetable for “when we get the service we deserve,” Ross said. Then it would be up to management and to the jurisdictions that financially support Metro to deliver on that commitment.
Dean Wilkinson, a retiree who uses the Glenmont station, testified that he also was representing a group: “the grumpy old men” contingent. But he certainly expressed the concerns I hear from all sorts of riders when he described his “level of disgust with the level of service” and questioned the wisdom of fare increases.
“Every time the fares go up,” he said, “the service deteriorates.”
If that’s the way you feel, you might be angry enough to stop by the school cafeteria tonight. Besides the chance to offer formal testimony at the 7 p.m. hearing, there’s also the one-hour open forum that precedes it, During the forum — sort of like a cocktail party without the beverages — people have a chance to talk with Metro officials about any of their concerns with the transit system.
The forums and hearings will continue into next week. The last one this week will be held Thursday night at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, John H. Kearney Sr. Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE in the District. It’s near the Anacostia Metrorail station and bus hub.