MetroAccess riders fear impact of fare increases

February 5, 2014

An increase in the Metrorail fares will have an even greater impact on MetroAccess riders, even though the paratransit fare formula won’t change. (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)

Riders who have disabilities and use the MetroAccess paratransit service are worried about the impact that impending rail and bus fare increases will have on their own costs.

The transit authority has not proposed any changes in the formula that sets their rates. But in Metro hearings over the past week, many MetroAccess riders have said they would prefer that the formula did change.

MetroAccess users either can’t or can’t easily travel on the regular bus or rail service. Specialized vehicles get them from their homes to their destinations, including doctors’ appointments, physical therapy sessions, shopping or work.

Calculating Metrorail fares can be complicated, but train rides don’t have to deal with this MetroAccess formula: “Customers may take trips that begin and end less than 3/4 of a mile from the nearest bus stop or Metrorail station and will be charged two times the fastest fixed-route equivalent fare, paying no more than $7 per one-way trip.”

What’s clear to the MetroAccess riders is that if the fare goes up for bus and rail riders, it will have a bigger effect on the cost of the paratransit rides.

Regina Lee, a member of Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, a citizens’ panel, urged Metro board members at the Tuesday night hearing in Rockville to consider changes in the formula that would reduce the impact on people with disabilities.

The Metro board could reduce the fare multiplier to something less than double the equivalent fixed-route fare.

Also, Lee said, the board could set a maximum fare for MetroAccess that is less than the current maximum of $7. (The proposed maximum peak fare for Metrorail is $6, or 25 cents higher than it is now.)

Before the hearings began, most public attention was focused on the proposed increases in bus and rail fares. But it’s the MetroAccess customers, rather than the Metrobus and Metrorail riders, who have been making the strongest case for attention at the hearings so far.

One exception was the testimony from Junette Wilson at the Rockville hearing. Wilson, 21, of Gaithersburg is a student at Trinity College. She calculates her current transit cost at $685 per semester. And she’s one of the rail riders who waits at the station of the lower, off-peak fares to kick in. The rail fares are “starting to be unaffordable for a lot of us,” she told board members Tuesday.

After the public hearings are done, the board can’t increase the fares beyond the proposed rates announced before the hearings started. But it can reduce the proposed increases to lessen the impact on riders. And it also can fiddle with the formula governing how the fares are applied to MetroAccess riders.

Two hearings remain:

  • 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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