The changes are scheduled to go into effect July 1. Transit officials have said it takes about 60 days to update and test the computer systems, and crews need time to make and install new signs.
Dozens of passengers filled the boardroom at Metro’s headquarters to speak out against the impact increases would have on those who use MetroAccess, the transit authority’s service for the disabled.
The maximum charge for MetroAccess will remain $7. However, many of those riders will experience increases because rates are calculated using bus and train fares.
Advocates for the disabled said they were disappointed that the complex MetroAccess fare structure wasn’t simplified and made more affordable.
“We go to meeting after meeting to plead for you not to raise our fares,” Lois Staves, 62, of Fort Washington, told the board. “We have rights to be mobile. You take away our mobility. You crush our spirit. A person has to decide whether to go out or stay in. If you are on a fixed income you’re just stuck.”
Board members discussed the possibility of raising most fares and delaying any action that would affect MetroAccess until the rates could be studied further, but in the end they unanimously approved the increases without taking that action.
However, Metro officials said they plan to work with disabled riders to provide better online information and phone assistance on the cost of the service.
The increases come after six public hearings Metro held in February and March, where riders also expressed frustration about the poor service and delays they often encounter. For some riders, it was difficult to face that increased fares will go toward Metro’s operations and not for any new services.
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said the increases provide “additional revenue for rail and bus service and to improve maintenance.” He said that although he understands the complaints, the troubled system needs the money.
“Years of not doing enough maintenance” hurt the system, Sarles said, a frequent response to criticism about Metro’s need for more revenue. Making improvements is what riders “want and deserve.” He cautioned that “it takes time to dig out of a hole.”
Metro last put in place a broad fare increase in summer 2010.
Next month, the board is expected to decide on the passage of its $2.5 billion annual operating and capital budget for fiscal 2013. Metro has projected that it will have a $103 million deficit, which officials hope to close with revenue from the fee increases and larger subsidies from local jurisdictions.
Metro’s base peak fare for rail riders will increase from $1.95 to $2.10. The maximum peak fare will increase from $5 to $5.75. The base off-peak rail fare will increase from $1.60 to $1.70.