Metro fare increase starts Sunday

Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST - Beginning Sunday, rail passengers will face average increases of about 5 percent.

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Metro riders will pay more to ride starting Sunday, when bus and rail fares increase, along with fees for parking at Metro garages.

This is the third time in five years that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority had raised fares, and under a policy that took effect in July 2010, riders face the prospect of fare increases every other year.

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Beginning Sunday, rail passengers will face average increases of about 5 percent, although the actual amounts will vary greatly depending on distance. The base rail fare will increase to $2.10 from $1.95 during rush hour — 5 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays; and from midnight to closing on weekends. Riders who board trains during other times will pay $1.70 — an increase of 10 cents; the maximum off-peak fare will rise to $3.50 from $2.75.

Bus fares increase by a dime for those who use electronic Smar­Trip cards, rising to $1.60.

Since 2007, the basic rush-hour rail fare has increased from $1.35 to $2.10. Bus fares for those who pay with a SmarTrip card have gone from $1.25 to $1.60.

Some riders seemed resigned to the fare hikes.

“In this system, you can charge what people are willing to pay,” said Kenneth Hammitt, 25, who commutes from his home near Dupont Circle to his job at the Department of Homeland Security in Arlington. “No matter how much Metro charges, people will still ride Metro.”

The package of fare increases also includes a $1 per trip surcharge for riders who use paper Farecards. It’s part of an effort that officials hope will prod more riders to switch to plastic Smar­Trip cards, which are easier and cheaper for Metro to maintain. Previously, those who used paper cards paid 25 cents more per ride.

“Buy a SmarTrip card,” said Richard Sarles, Metro’s general manager. “Buy it and use it.”

Ann Over, 51, an engineer with NASA, who comes to town from Cleveland at least every other month, always uses the paper cards. The higher surcharge gives her a greater incentive to switch, she said, but she ran into another glitch: finding a place to buy a SmarTrip card. She eventually bought one at CVS.

But Metro officials said that, starting Sunday, other riders will be able to buy SmarTrip cards at machines in 10 stations where the most paper cards are sold: Crystal City, Dupont Circle, Farragut West, Foggy Bottom, Gallery Place, Pentagon City, Reagan National Airport, Rosslyn, Smithsonian and Union Station.

Still, some people, including members of Metro’s Riders’ Advisory Council, say the switch could have been better timed. In September, Metro will begin offering $3 rebates to those who buy the $5 plastic cards and register them online. They’re able to offer the discount because the cost of the cards is going down. But riders who buy those cards now won’t be eligible for the rebate.

Metro also is getting rid of the short-lived peak-of-the-peak charge, which tacked a 20-cent surcharge on trips made during rush hours. Officials had implemented it in 2010 in hopes of encouraging people to ride the trains when they were less crowded. But that charge wasn’t enough to force people to alter their commutes. Officials found the surcharge also added a layer of confusion to the fare structure.

In debating this latest fare increase, Metro officials tried to weigh the need to raise revenue against the concern that higher fares might prompt some people to stop riding.

Even before the fare increase, some riders were discovering cars — or even cabs — might be more economical than taking Metro, particularly for larger groups.

“I was surprised the other night, at the George Clinton concert, that it was actually cheaper to take a cab with the four of us than it was to take Metro,’’ said John Giesecke, 40, an interior designer who lives on Capitol Hill.

As riders adjust to this newest set of fare hikes, the next increase might not be that far away. In 2008, the Metro Board of Directors adopted a policy, effective 2010, for fare changes every two years, tied to the consumer price index.

Catherine M. Hudgins, chairwoman of the Metro board, said the goal was to establish a more consistent policy and timeline for considering fare adjustments. Hudgins emphasized, however, that the board would continue to use its discretion when it came to fare hikes.

“These are not automatic,” she said.

Metro held six public hearings in February and March on the proposed fare increasesbefore approving them in April. Those who testified said they were frustrated with service disruptions and delays. Some riders were miffed that the increased fares will go toward Metro’s current operations and not for any new services.

But some riders said even with the increases they’ll continue to ride. In the end – it’s just the better choice.

“Any other alternative travel is not ideal with the traffic,” said Travis Ski, 34, of Vienna. “As long as I see the Metro passing congested cars, that’d still be my preferred method of commuting.”

Ted Trautman contributed to this report.

 
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