But those costs affect riders in different ways, depending on whether they commute long distance at the height of rush hour, make a shorter trip at a less crowded time or head for one of the D.C. region’s cultural and entertainment centers during an off-peak period.
The accompanying chart shows some potential changes in Metrorail’s SmarTrip fares if the Metro board approves the proposals. But let’s look at some specific trips and occasionally account for the additional cost of parking, an especially important factor in suburban commutes.
Long suburban commutes
A commuter driving to the Red Line terminal at Shady Grove for a ride to the west side of downtown Washington pays $4.75 for parking. For a ride to and from Dupont Circle at the height of rush hour, add $10.40 for Metrorail fare. That’s the maximum fare using a SmarTrip card, plus the peak-of-the-peak surcharge of 20 cents on travel between 7:30 and 9 a.m. and between 4:30 and 6 p.m. Our commuter pays a total of $15.15 to park and ride Metrorail.
The Sarles proposal would affect the cost in several ways, eliminating the peak-of-the-peak surcharge while adding 25 cents to the parking fee and raising the maximum fare from $5 to $5.75. The commuter would then be paying $16.50 a day, an increase of about 9 percent.
A rider who gets to the station earlier and leaves work earlier could pay the normal rush-hour fare. In that case, the current total for parking and riding would be $14.75, so the proposed charge of $16.50 would be an increase of almost 12 percent.
Shorter suburban commutes
What about a commuter who parks at Branch Avenue to take the Green Line to one of the federal offices on the south side of the Mall? It’s $4.25 to park, as it is at most stations. The ride to and from L’Enfant Plaza at the peak of the peak costs $7.40, for a total daily cost of $11.65.
Under the Sarles proposal, the daily cost would rise to $11.90, an increase of about 2 percent. Why the lesser impact on this suburban commuter? Both riders would save the 20-cent surcharge, but parking costs less at Branch Avenue and the rail trip is shorter.
Let’s look at the costs for a commuter who lives in the center of the D.C. region: an Orange Line rider who lives in Arlington County and can walk to the Clarendon station for a trip to the west side of downtown and a job at a federal agency such as the State Department or at George Washington University or another private employer along Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
A roundtrip between Clarendon and Foggy Bottom at the height of rush hour costs $4.30. Under the general manager’s proposal, it would cost $4.20. The rider would save a dime a day, thanks to elimination of the peak-of-the-peak fare.
A midday traveler heading to Reagan National Airport from Metro Center pays $1.60 for an off-peak rail trip. That would rise to $2, a 25 percent increase. The same trip taken during the morning rush but outside the peak of the peak now costs $2.35. It would cost $2.50, a 6 percent increase.
A Cleveland Park resident who wants to get to a Redskins game at FedEx Field in Landover pays $5.50 for an off-peak round trip on the Red and Blue lines to the Morgan Boulevard station. That would rise to $7, a 27 percent increase.
Work in the NoMa neighborhood and feel like catching a Nationals game after work? To make a 7:05 start at Nationals Park, a rail rider would probably leave Union Station for Navy Yard during rush hour — though not peak of the peak — and return off peak. That cost was $3.55 roundtrip last season. This summer, it could cost $3.80, a 7 percent increase. (The baseball fan might be better off taking the D.C. Circulator bus. If fares stay the same, that’s $2 round trip.)
A person on the east side of Capitol Hill who wants to reach a weekend Capitals or Wizards game at Verizon Center can do the off-peak round trip between Eastern Market and Gallery Place for $3.20. Next season, the price could be $3.40, a 6 percent increase.
Sarles has proposed a flat fare for riders using paper Farecards. More than 85 percent of Metro riders use the plastic SmarTrip cards, and the transit authority would like to continue the move away from paper. At the same time, Sarles said, the flat-fare system of $6 at peak and $4 off peak would be easier for visitors to understand.
The Metro board also wants to consider a flat fare based on two geographic zones, rather than time of day. The inner zone would include National Airport, Ballston, Friendship Heights, Fort Totten, Stadium-Armory, Anacostia and all the stations closer to the D.C. core. Metro describes that as a “visitor’s zone,” where paper cards would cost $4. Trips outside that zone would cost $6 with paper cards. That would be unpopular with suburban riders.
The Metro board will meet Thursday to consider exactly what fares and fees to propose for the public to consider in hearings to be held in later February and early March. The meeting is important, because the board will set the maximum rates it plans to consider. Once the public hearings end, the board could decide to approve lower fares and fees, but it cannot raise them beyond what it asked the public to consider.