The last fare increase was two years ago, and it was the broadest in Metro’s history. An increase this year is likely to be unpopular because the system struggles daily with service disruptions — some planned, and others not. Riders face delays because of train malfunctions and other issues. In the past three weeks, brake parts have fallen off two rail cars.
The additional revenue won’t alleviate the system’s chronic problems with its escalators or increase trains on the Red Line. Covering the shortfall will just keep the buses and trains running at the current level of service.
“Years of not spending enough money on maintenance” have hurt the system, said Metro General Manager Richard Sarles. “You can’t turn that around overnight. Better is not free. And as we are playing catch-up and building a better Metro that benefits all our stakeholders, we are asking everyone to contribute.”
Riders would pay more round-the-clock under the proposed $1.6 billion operating budget for fiscal 2013, which Sarles plans to present to the board of directors Thursday. Any changes to fares would require public hearings and additional board discussion.
Every year, staff members and the board at the regional transit authority debate whether to cut service, raise fares or go to the local jurisdictions for more money. The final budget often involves a combination.
Because the new revenue would generate only about $66 million, local governments — which provide hundreds of millions of dollars to support Metro each year — would also have to increase their contributions to the transit authority by a total of $53 million.
Metro officials, however, are promoting the simplification of fares as a plus. The new fare structure would eliminate the “peak-of-the-peak” rate, in which passengers pay a surcharge for riding the subway during the busiest weekday periods.
It was implemented with the last round of fare increase, in 2010, to ease crowding and encourage riders to use trains just outside the peak periods, but the strategy failed, Sarles said.
“We weren’t accomplishing our policy objective, and we were just complicating the fare,” he said.
The proposed budget would increase rail fares in rush-hour periods by an average of less than 5 percent for those using SmarTrip cards, according to Metro. The maximum peak fare would rise from $5 to $5.75.
Rail riders would also see changes in off-peak fares. The base fare would increase to $1.70, from $1.60, a trip. The maximum off-peak fare would be $3.50.