Metro transit officials have drafted a nearly $2.9 billion budget proposal for the next fiscal year that would increase rail fares by an average of 3 percent — adding 10 cents to the cost of a typical train ride — and change the standard bus fare to $1.75, regardless of whether a passenger pays with cash or a SmarTrip card.
Meanwhile, the cost of parking in Metro lots and garages, now $5 a day in most places, would go up by 25 cents in the new budget. The proposed increases, which will be officially announced Monday, come within weeks of three major service disruptions on Metro’s Red Line that prompted the transit agency to issue a rare public apology to riders.
The spending plan, for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014, projects $1.76 billion in operating expenses and $1.14 billion worth of capital improvements for Metro’s train and bus systems. General Manager Richard Sarles said he will present the proposal to Metro’s board of directors at its meeting Thursday.
The $1.14 billion in proposed spending on capital projects, including major infrastructure upgrades, represents a 24 percent increase over capital expenditures in the current fiscal year. The forecast of $1.76 billion in operating expenses means that Metro officials anticipate a 6 percent increase in the cost of running the transit network.
In an interview, Sarles called the proposed fare increases “necessary” yet “still very modest.”
“Let’s put it in perspective,” he said. “It’s a dime on the average fare. Three percent is a little lower than inflation. . . . And what I’m in a better position to do this year than I was two or three years ago is to say: Look at the improvements we’ve been making.
“We’ve got station improvements going on, better lighting,” Sarles said. “Despite some incidents, our on-time performance is better now on both the bus and the rail sides. There are new buses out there. The escalators are running better than they used to. So people can see the improvements. They see what they’re getting for their money.”
The budget proposal will be the focus of public hearings this winter and spring as Metro officials attempt to garner support from customers and from elected leaders in the District, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the federal government. The federal, state and local governments pay for about two-thirds of Metro’s budget.
A proposed fare increase for transit riders was not unexpected. Metro’s policy is to avoid fare increases in every other budget year, and there were none this fiscal year.
Although rail fares overall would go up by 3 percent — increasing the cost of the average subway ride to $3 — some specific fares would rise substantially more than 3 percent under the agency’s complicated formula for determining prices, said Mark Schofield, Metro’s senior economic and financial adviser.
When Metro last increased fares, in the fiscal year starting in July 2012, it discovered that in some instances, the cost of traveling between two particular stations at certain times of the day would have gone up by more than half. As a result, Schofield said, the agency decided that no rail fare would rise by more than 27 percent.
“So now, when we get to the particular fare increase for the [coming] fiscal year, we’re interested in capping the increase at about 15 percent,” he said. “Just so there aren’t certain groups of travelers who are making certain trips at certain times and who find they’re facing a very substantial increase of 30 percent or more.”
Bus fares, meanwhile, would go up for some riders and down for others, depending on how they have tended to pay their fares.
The standard fare is $1.80 for passengers paying with cash and $1.60 for those using SmarTrip cards. The new budget would do away with the surcharge for using cash and set the fare at $1.75 for each payment method. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said that more than 90 percent of bus passengers use SmarTrip cards, which means that for a vast majority of riders, the fare would go up by 15 cents in the new budget.
Other prices also would increase: The fare on express bus routes — now $3.65 with a SmarTrip card or $4 in cash — would be set at $4 for everyone. The price of riding Metro’s B30 bus to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport and the 5A bus to Dulles International Airport, currently $6, would go up by a dollar.
Fares would remain the same for MetroAccess, the van service that carries people with disabilities who are unable to board trains or buses.
Metro plans to reduce the $25 parking fee at the Largo Town Center and Morgan Boulevard stations near FedEx Field during Washington Redskins games. Because the stations are a longer walk from the stadium than private lots that charge $25, Metro intends to drop its price to $15 to be more competitive.
As for spending, Metro is about halfway through a six-year, $5 billion project to largely rebuild the infrastructure of its rail system — work that Sarles has said was unwisely deferred for more than a decade by previous Metro administrations.
The proposed $1.14 billion in capital spending “is a one-year component” of that six-year plan, said Tom Webster, Metro’s budget director. The rebuilding involves the repair and replacement of many electronic and mechanical parts of the rail system, including worn-out tracks, switches, signals and other equipment, officials said.
Breaking down the projected $1.76 billion in operating expenses, Webster said that personnel costs — including salaries, pension contributions, health insurance and other benefits — are expected to go up by about $90 million. That accounts for most of the proposed increase over the current operating budget of $1.65 billion.
Metro’s budget is financed by operating revenue and by contributions from the federal government, the states of Maryland and Virginia, and eight jurisdictions — the District; Montgomery, Prince George’s, Fairfax and Arlington counties; and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church.
The budget plan projects $953 million in operating revenue — an increase of 7 percent, partly from the proposed fare increases — plus $1.29 billion from the state and local jurisdictions, including $779 million toward operating costs and $520 million for capital improvements. An additional $630 million would come from the federal government. A lot of the state and local contributions also would involve federal money.