That’s become a lot harder, she said, since Metro changed its fare policy last year for MetroAccess, a transit alternative for the elderly and disabled.
A round trip from Bush’s Suitland home to her spinal-cord specialist in Rockville is $14. The cost to her church on St. Barnabas Road, about three miles from her home, varies from $3.40 to $7 each way, depending on the time and day of the trip.
Two years ago, every trip she took, wherever she was going, cost her $3.
Now, Metro charges based on a formula that takes into account the distance, time of travel and the fastest way to take the trip on bus and rail. It is part of Metro’s strategy to address rising costs and increasing demand for the service.
That fare structure, which results in multiple possible fares, has created a lot of confusion and uncertainty for people who depend on the service and are living on fixed incomes.
Riders and disability advocates have complained for months about the fares, which, according to Metro, range from $2 to $7 per trip. Advocates say they are concerned about both the unpredictable fares and the overall jump in cost.
“We don’t like the fares. We don’t understand them,” said Regina Lee, a member of Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee and an advocate with the nonprofit Independence Now. “People are struggling to get to work now, and they can’t do any extracurricular activities because the fares are so high.”
In response, Metro is trying to develop a fare calculator that would let customers determine what fare they would pay at a given time of day and would allow them to shop for the lowest fare when making a reservation.
Metro says fares can be simple to calculate when the trip corresponds to a direct bus or Metro route. For example, a MetroAccess trip from Columbia Heights to Gallery Place would be $3.40, or two times the $1.70 fare for the non-rush-hour Green Line ride.
But many trips are more complex, and the planned calculator is far from done.
The current structure was put in place as part of an effort to better manage the rising costs of the service, and Metro officials say it complies with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.
Ridership and costs have rapidly increased since MetroAccess launched in 1994. In the past five years, the cost to operate the service has doubled. MetroAccess transported 2.5 million passengers in fiscal 2012 at a cost of $116 million, up from 1.6 million passengers in fiscal 2007 at a cost of $57.7 million.
“We certainly understand that any fare increase is going to be difficult,” said Christian T. Kent, assistant general manager of access services at Metro. “We have been able to provide the same amount of service to customers even with the rising cost. The fare increase . . . was designed to ask the customers to contribute just a little more to the overall cost.”