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Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 10/12/2011

Metro to examine how fares are calculated

Metro’s board will hear a presentation Thursday on whether to change its complex fare structure as it prepares to implement a new electronic payment system in the coming years.

The transit authority said it needs to examine its fare structure because it plans to put in place new technology for payments that would eventually replace its SmarTrip electronic cards, which officials have described as outdated.

Metro plans to use “an open payment” system that would allow riders to use credit cards to pay at the faregates. The discussion is set to take place Thursday at the board’s finance and administration committee meeting.

Metro’s current rail fare system is based on distance. The farther a customer rides, the more it costs. It’s also more expensive to travel on the rail system during peak times. Bus fares also vary, with one charge for regular routes, another for express routes, and another for airport express service. And then there are bus passes.

Last year, Metro introduced its most comprehensive fare hike ever, also implementing a “peak-of-the-peak” fare, to help cover a budget shortfall. But customers have expressed concern that the fare system is too complex. Metro even struggled to implement the changes last year because of their complexity and memory limits with the faregate technology.

Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, said there are more than 44,000 different combinations for fare costs. By comparison, New York’s fares are based on the type of card a rider buys and discounts are given based on the number of rides a customer takes in a month.

Stessel said the Thursday presentation about changing the fares is a “conceptual discussion.” With Metro’s current, complex combinations of fares, it is more costly to deal with that in the new open payment system, he said.

“A simple fare structure will be the cheapest to implement” with a new payment system, Stessel said.

“This is the right time to consider the question of what kind of fare structure we should have,” he said. “This will be disconnected from the budget cycle and it will help to inform the path forward on a new payment program.”

Metro is looking at several concepts of how to potentially change its fare structure. Among them:

• Eliminating the “peak-of-the-peak” surcharge on trains.

• Implementing a program for unlimited bus and rail rides at certain times. For example, riders might be able to buy a monthly pass for regular commutes and get free nights and weekends.

• Instituting “zone-based” rail fares.

• Reducing the number of fare combinations from 44,376 to four and making rail fare a standard $2.70. This option has the “lowest development cost”for instituting a new fare payment system, according to materials provided before the presentation.

By  |  12:12 PM ET, 10/12/2011

Categories:  Metro | Tags:  Metro, WMATA, Silver Line, SmarTrip

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