Should Metro charge congestion fares?


A crowded metro car leaves Metro Center on the Red Line. Dr. Gridlock says he’s not against congestion pricing if it meets some of Thuronyi’s standards: The program should target congestion relief, not revenue. It should create positive incentives — like discounts — rather than penalizing working people who have no choice about traveling at the height of rush. (James A. Parcell/The Washington Post)
Robert Thomson
Columnist March 3, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I must disagree with your conclusion that the peak-of-peak fare is properly eliminated because it “failed to provide congestion relief by moving riders away from the height of rush-hour service.” [Commuter page, Feb. 25]

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. View Archive

Yes, there was no congestion relief, but the peak-of-peak fare was not properly designed to focus on the true peak usage. Metro may have sufficient information to design such a system, but unfortunately, it failed to do so. So it is unsurprising that peak-of-peak surcharge failed to deliver congestion relief.

What would be needed is a much more granular and specific fare differential that focuses on the stations and routes involving high congestion, and a fairly significant difference between peak and normal fares.

The goal should be congestion relief, not revenue. The current peak-of-peak fare was designed with revenue enhancement in mind. A true peak-of-peak system would focus much more narrowly. For example, no peak surcharge would apply for those traveling in a direction opposite the main flow of riders.

The promise of a true peak-of-peak scheme would be to enhance the carrying capacity of the system and make the riding experience during times of high congestion more enjoyable for riders, although more expensive.

— Victor Thuronyi, Takoma Park

By the time morning trains have gone a few stops, the passengers are crushed together. There’s no good place to stand. Everybody is in everybody’s way. Those who brought reading material don’t have room to raise it up to eye level.

Everybody looks miserable, like they were at a funeral, or a Redskins game.

So I’m not against congestion pricing if it meets some of Thuronyi’s standards: The program should target congestion relief, not revenue. It should create positive incentives — like discounts — rather than penalizing working people who have no choice about traveling at the height of rush hour.

That sort of plan isn’t around the corner. Consider, for example, how complicated the fare charts would be. And are you traveling against congestion, or with congestion?

What are your suggestions on subtracting from congestion without adding to complexity?

Put it in writing

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You provided a list of the WMATA fare increase hearings. For riders who cannot attend the hearings and want to write comments to the Metro Board, it would be very helpful if you could provide an e-mail or post office address in your next column where comments could be sent.

— Jeffrey Mora, the District

Write to the Office of the Secretary, WMATA, 600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, or e-mail writtentestimony@
wmata.com. You can send a fax to 202-962-1133. Do it by 5 p.m. March 12. Metro also has put up an online survey on some possible options to balance the budget. You can find it on Metro’s home page at www.wmata.com. This survey also will be an option till 5 p.m. March 12.

I’m curious what you think of the survey. I wasn’t sure whether it was about understanding your concerns about safety and reliability or having you appreciate how hard it is to run all those trains and buses.

On the aggressive maintenance program, the survey asks:

“Which would you prefer?

●Metro should maintain its accelerated construction schedule to finish as soon as possible.

● Metro should slow down even at the risk that there may be more breakdowns and disruptions.”

Guess which one Metro thinks is the right answer.

To read previous Dr. Gridlock columns, go to washingtonpost.com/gridlock. Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

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