Metro adjusts fare changes in revised budget

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said the 28-day pass was being offered for the first time in Metro history. Metro discontinued a 28-day rail pass in 2003.

Metro’s rail riders would be able to buy a 28-day, unlimited pass under a revised budget package that the board of directors is scheduled to discuss Thursday.

The new pass, which would be available only on electronic SmarTrip cards, would cost $230 and would allow a user to travel the breadth of the system at any time of day.

The proposal was included in a board packet released Monday and follows Metro’s revelation on Sunday that the deficit in its fiscal 2013 budget is $103 million, $16 million less than previously estimated.

As a result, officials plan to hold the line on the maximum fare for riders who use Metro’s shuttle service for the disabled; they had proposed to increase it to $7.40 from $7.

However, rail and bus fares would still rise an average of about 5 percent, although the increase would vary depending on the distance. Parking fees would increase by 25 cents. In January, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles had proposed larger subsidies from local governments and across the-board fare hikes.

Metro’s financial officials plan to present their latest recommendations to the finance committee Thursday. The board is expected to vote on the roughly $2.5 billion operating and capital budget by this summer. Any changes in fares and fees would probably go into effect in July.

The rough outline of the fare increase has not changed. The base peak fare for rail riders would increase from $1.95 to $2.10. The maximum peak fare would increase from $5 to $5.75. The base off-peak rail fare would increase from $1.60 to $1.70. The maximum off-peak fare would be $3.50. Bus fares would increase by a dime, from $1.50 to $1.60.

However, the revised fare proposal would benefit bus riders who pay cash. They would have faced a 40-cent surcharge under the original proposal, but that amount has been reduced to 20 cents. Metro has said it wants to push more people to use electronic farecards because they are more efficient and transactions cost less to process.

For rail riders who use paper farecards, Sarles had proposed a one-way flat fare that was $6 during rush hour and $4 in off-peak times. Now Metro is suggesting a $1 surcharge for paper cards.

Metro still proposes to eliminate the peak-of-the-peak surcharge for rail riders who travel during the subway’s busiest times. Officials have said the move was an attempt to lessen congestion, but it failed to persuade riders to change their commuting habits.

The District, Maryland and Virginia are expected to contribute $669.1 million in operating subsidies to help run the agency. That would be an increase from $622 million in fiscal 2012 and still would have to be approved by the local jurisdictions.

Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, said the new proposal reflects some of the feedback the agency received from riders at six public hearings in February and March, plus insights from the 3,600 responses it received in an online survey.

Many riders at public hearings expressed frustration at fare increases when they endure poor service on the regional bus and rail system every day.

Under the latest proposal, Metro also would eliminate its $9 one-day pass, which is valid after 9:30 a.m. on weekdays, and institute a $14 one-day pass that has no time restrictions.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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