A primer on Metro’s proposed fare and fee increases


Metro has proposed increases in its rail, bus and parking fees and invited the public to comment. (Robert Thomson — The Washington Post)

Starting Wednesday night, Metro will begin a set of six public hearings on its proposed fare and fee increases, which would take effect around July 1 if given final approval by the Metro board.

On Monday, I hope to have Metro General Manager Richard Sarles as the guest on my online chat to discuss the fare proposals, the Metro budget and the long-range prospects for service improvements. You can submit questions and comments now for Monday’s discussion.

But for those considering attending one of the hearings, here are the basics of the Metro revenue proposals.

Operating budget
The transit authority budget is divided into operating and capital programs. The operating portion will cover the expenses for fiscal 2015, which starts July 1. Metro revenue comes from two main sources: the local governments that support Metro and the riders. The local governments account for 45 percent of the revenue, and the riders pay about 52 percent. The proposed operating budget is $1.76 billion.

To balance it, Metro’s leaders hope to get $44 million more from the local governments and about $30 million more from the riders, through the fare and fee increases.

The Metro board can adjust the rail, bus and parking charges to reach its revenue target, but it can’t approve charges that are higher than those it advertised for these public hearings. Otherwise, it would have to hold another round of hearings.

Metrorail. The average increase in the rail fare could be as much as 4 percent. The peak boarding charge could go from $2.10 to $2.20. The off-peak boarding charge could go from $1.70 to $1.75. The boarding charge is good for a three-mile trip. Beyond that, Metro adds charges based on distance traveled. The maximum peak fare could rise by a quarter to $6. The maximum off-peak fare could rise 15 cents to $3.65.

Riders will recall that some off-peak fares increased far more than the average when Metro raised the charges two years ago. Because of the complex way Metro calculates fares, some of those off-peak boosts amounted to 60 percent changes in certain station-to-station fares. In this proposed budget, Metro puts a cap of 15 percent on any station-to-station increase in the off-peak fare.

Rail passes. The cost of a one-day, unlimited rail pass could rise from $14 to $14.50. Other types of passes could rise to these levels: Seven-day short trip pass, $36.50; seven-day fast pass, $59.75; 28-day fast pass, $239. The Metro staff has proposed creating a one-day pass for visiting conventioneers, which would cost $10. This pass would not be available to the general public.

Metrobus. Several different proposals would affect bus fares. For riders using SmarTrip cards, the regular fare could increase by as much as 25 cents, to $1.85.
The express bus fare could go up by 35 cents, to $4. The fare for the airport buses could rise by a dollar, to $7.

There are two proposals that could affect bus riders who pay cash. Sarles proposed eliminating the cash surcharge. Metro imposed the surcharge several years ago to create an incentive for switching from cash payments to the plastic SmarTrip cards. But the transit agency staff says that removing the surcharge now wouldn’t have much impact on SmarTrip use, because riders now have other incentives to use the cards, including the ability to make transfers with them and to load them with seven-day bus passes.

An alternative proposal would keep the surcharge. Under this scenario, the regular fare with cash could rise by 20 cents to $2, and the express fare with cash would rise by as much as 50 cents, to $4.50.

Parking. The cost of parking at the lots and garages operated by Metro could increase by 25 cents. Prince George’s County has requested an additional increase of 50 cents to park at the Metro lots and garages in the county. That additional money could be used in several ways: For payment of current debt service that is financing construction of Metro parking in the county, for maintenance and rehabilitation of parking facilities, or for payment of debt service to finance construction of new Metro parking in the county.

Another fee proposal focuses on the Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center parking facilities, the nearest Metro parking to FedEx Field. The rate for parking during stadium events is now $25, but the Metro staff says that leaves the space under-utilized. Since the space is farther away from the stadium entrances than other parking fields and Metro doesn’t allow tailgating, the fee isn’t competitive. So the proposal would cut the charge to $15 during stadium events.

Capital budget
The other major portion of the budget pays for equipment and for the long-range rebuilding program. The proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $1.137 billion.

Metro officials expect that federal money will account for $487.5 million of that sum. About $522 million will come from state and local governments, and the remainder from other sources of financing. It doesn’t come from rider fares or parking fees, but the public still can comment on this part of the budget, which includes the weekend rebuilding program.

Hearing schedule
Each public hearing will be preceded by an informal information session at 6 p.m. This is a chance to talk with Metro officials about any transit topic, whether or not it’s part of the fare-increase agenda. The formal public hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m. This is the chance to offer testimony on the proposed budget and the fare increases.

Dates and locations:

Wednesday: Greenbelt Marriott, 6400 Ivy Lane, Greenbelt. A free shuttle will operate to and from the Greenbelt station.

Thursday: Hilton Springfield, 6550 Loisdale Rd., Springfield. A free shuttle will operate to Franconia-Springfield station after 7:30 p.m.

Monday: Matthews Memorial Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE in the District.

Tuesday: Montgomery County Executive Office Building cafeteria, 101 Monroe St., Rockville.

Wednesday, Feb. 5: Arlington Central Library, 1015 North Quincy St., Arlington.

Thursday, Feb. 6: Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW in the District.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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