Metro riders blast fare hikes as unjustified

Metro riders gave the transit agency’s board and top management a clear message: The poor service they receive doesn’t justify the across-the-board price hikes they are considering.

That was the sentiment of about 130 people who testified at six public hearings as Metro sought public insight on its nearly $3 billion budget for fiscal 2013. At the last hearing in Hyattsville, about two dozen people — many of them users of Metro’s door-to-door shuttle service for the disabled — turned out Wednesday to voice their opinions.

Worthington Teleford of Hyattsville, who rides Metro daily to his job near the New York Avenue Metro stop, told Metro executives that they needed to “fire their budget department’’ for not finding more cost savings in their proposed $1.6 billion operating budget.

He also encouraged Metro to implement a single-price fare, noting that other systems have it and calling it “a beautiful thing.” He criticized Metro for having a complicated fare structure.

“Obviously you got your fare system from the airlines,’’ he said. “It’s confusing, and no one understands it.”

The board is expected to debate the budget over the coming weeks and has to pass a balanced budget by this summer. Metro General Manager Richard Sarles has proposed raising rail and bus fares, plus the fees at parking garages, to help fill a $116 million deficit. The rest of the budget gap would be filled by increased subsidies from local jurisdictions.

The transit system imposed a sweeping fare increase two years ago, drawing plenty of frustrated riders to speak out against it.

At public hearings over the past two weeks, riders expressed concern on a range of topics, including poor service on buses, chronically broken escalators at stations and rude employees. They also questioned Metro’s spending and top-heavy management and the high cost of the door-to-door shuttle service for disabled riders.

In Anacostia, Pat Spray raised concerns that the proposed hike, from $7 to $7.40 one-way, to ride MetroAccess would mean that disabled riders would have to choose between going to doctor’s appointments, buying food or paying rent because many are on fixed budgets.

“The rates for bike shelters are going down . . . but disabled riders are going to have to pay more,” he told two board members and a top Metro official. “I guess disabled people don’t matter.”

At the public hearing in Bethesda, Joan Ward of Mount Pleasant, a regular bus rider of the H, L and M lines, said that Metro shouldn’t raise bus fares because “they’re dirty, they leave early and they leave late, and the schedules at the stops are outdated.”

In Arlington, Michael Grace said Sarles and several board members were “arrogant and tone deaf” when it came to listening to what riders want and offering them better service.

Brian Morris, who lives in Temple Hills and commutes on the Red Line from Fort Totten to Metro Center, told Metro officials at the Northwest hearing that “there is so much wrong with Metro right now, for you to ask for a fare increase is not acceptable.”

“People would be willing to pay more if the service was better, but it is terrible,” Morris said.

Metro has launched a $5 billion, six-year capital improvement plan to buy new rail cars and replace circuits, tracks and escalators. But often, riders are frustrated with day-to-day hiccups and delays.

Sarles missed the first week of hearings because he was out of town on business travel, according to Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman. Sarles attended the three hearings this week in Arlington, Northwest and Hyattsville. Board members and Metro’s top staffers took turns, rotating to the various hearings.

One rider at the Bethesda meeting asked for a show of hands of officials who took the bus or rail to get there. Sarles, Carol Kissal — Metro’s chief financial officer — and four board members — Anthony Giancola, Marcel Acosta, Tom Downs and Cathy Hudgins — raised their hands.

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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