Metro to hear from riders on fare increases

February 24, 2012

The menu of transit changes for the public to consider during Metro’s upcoming budget hearings is 25 pages long. It includes the minute details of boarding charges, composite miles and maximum peak fares.

So let’s look at some of the proposed changes that are most likely to affect your ride, such as ending the peak-of-the-peak fare, establishing a flat fee for paper Farecards, raising the price for peak and off-peak travel and altering the system of transit passes.

Budget basics

For the 2013 fiscal year, which starts in July, the transit authority proposes spending $1.6 billion on operating expenses and about $904 million on capital expenses, which include repairs, rehabilitation and new equipment.

The operating budget represents an increase of $116 million in expenses and a revenue decrease of $3 million, the transit staff said. To balance the budget, the local jurisdictions that support Metro would have to contribute an additional $53 million, and riders — collectively — would have to pay an additional $66 million through fare and fee increases for Metrorail, Metrobus, MetroAccess and station parking.

Metrorail fare increases

The transit staff said the average increase for riders would be about 5 percent, but the combinations of changes on fares and fees would affect riders differently. Some commuters who park and then ride Metrorail a long way will experience greater increases. Others who walk to a station and ride just a few stops could save a little or pay the same.

Some sample fares on the Red Line, Metro’s most heavily traveled route: A ride from Union Station to Farragut North at the peak of the peak now costs $2.15. The proposed charge is $2.10. A peak ride from Twinbrook to Gallery Place that costs $4.70 today would cost $5. A peak ride from Shady Grove to Metro Center, now costing $5, would cost $5.75. (That’s based on a proposed rise in the maximum rail fare from $5 to $5.75. The Metro board also could raise the max fare to $6.)

The best part of the entire fare package is the proposed elimination of the 20-cent peak-of-the-peak surcharge. The charge succeeded in raising revenue but failed to provide congestion relief by moving riders away from the height of the rush-hour service.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles says riders also should benefit from a simplified rail fare system that decreases the potential fare calculations based on distance, time of day and other charges from 44,000 to less than 15,000.

Paper Farecards

One form of simplification they might not like so much is the proposed flat fare for paper Farecards. Metro’s sales pitch on this contains ideas that are a bit contradictory. On the one hand, the flat fare makes the cards friendlier. Tourists wouldn’t have to stare at the fare charts in the stations, and they wouldn’t be taking home 5-cent souvenirs in the form of unspent value on paper fare cards after miscalculating the cost of a ride.

On the other hand, the flat fares would be expensive. The proposal uses pricing to steer toward plastic SmarTrip cards, which store fare value electronically.

The Metro board will consider two versions of a flat fare, one based on time and one based on geography. The timed version would charge $4 off-peak and $6 for a peak-period trip. The geographic version would charge $4 for travel through an inner zone, bounded by the stations at Fort Totten, Friendship Heights, Ballston, Reagan National Airport, Anacostia and Stadium-Armory. If a rider enters or exits the rail system beyond that zone, the paper fare card trip would cost $6.

Metrobus fares

Regular Metrobus fares would increase by 10 cents, to $1.60, for those using SmarTrip cards. For those paying cash, the fare would go from $1.70 to $2. As with the flat fares on Metrorail, there are friendly and unfriendly aspects to the bus proposal. Instead of fumbling with change and holding up the boarding line, riders could feed two dollar bills into the fare box. On the other hand, this form of “rounding,” as the transit staff referred to the $2 charge, is a fare increase of almost 18 percent. Here again, Metro has been using higher cash charges to encourage use of the SmarTrip cards.

The express bus fare would remain at $3.65 with a SmarTrip card but rise from $3.85 to $4 with cash. The $6 charge using cash or SmarTrip on the airport bus routes would not change. However, seniors and disabled people who now pay $1.80 in cash or $1.90 with a SmarTrip card on the airport routes would be required to pay $3.

There would be no change in the transfer policy.

Special fares

Seniors and people with disabilities pay half the peak-period fare. That formula would continue, so if the Metro board approves higher fares for peak periods, the senior/disabled fare would be half of that. They also would pay half the flat-fare rate using paper cards, and half the Metrobus fare.

The fare formula for the MetroAccess service would not change, but the maximum fare would rise from $7 to $7.40.

The one-day rail pass, valid for travel after 9:30 a.m. weekdays at a cost of $9, would be eliminated. The board will consider creating a new all-day rail pass for $14. Several other changes could be made in the pass system. They could include creating a four-week SmarTrip pass for rail at $230 and either eliminating or charging more for the seven-day short-trip paper Farecard pass.

Parking/biking

The fee for parking at Metro lots and garages would rise 25 cents. But Sarles wants the board to give him the flexibility to adjust the monthly charges for reserved parking and the number of spaces available to match demand at different stations.

Because the $200 annual fee for bike lockers discouraged their use, Sarles proposes dropping the charge to $120 a year.

Hearing schedule

Each of the Metro board’s six hearings will be preceded by an hour-long open forum at which people can talk about any topic related to Metro operations, not just the budget proposals that the board will later vote on. The public hearings will begin at 7 on each of the nights listed below.

Monday: Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda

Wednesday: Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Cafeteria, 7130 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church

Thursday: Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, John H. Kearney Sr. Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the District

Monday, March 5: Washington Lee High School Cafeteria, 1301 N. Stafford St., Arlington

Tuesday, March 6: St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle St. NW, the District

Wednesday, March 7: First United Methodist Church, 6201 Belcrest Rd., Hyattsville

We’d also like to hear your opinion of the proposals and how they would affect you. Write to us via e-mail at transportation@washpost.com.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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