Metro Drops Plan For Fare Increases

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., who canceled the fare-increase plan because it was too uneven, wants to tie fare hikes to cost-of-living increases.
General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., who canceled the fare-increase plan because it was too uneven, wants to tie fare hikes to cost-of-living increases. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007

Metro has scrapped a plan to raise fares because General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said he can work toward closing a budget shortfall by eliminating positions and tightening spending -- but he said a fare increase may be necessary as soon as next year.

Catoe has set aside a complicated plan that would have raised bus and train fares and fees at suburban parking lots. Rush-hour commuters would have paid significantly more than off-peak riders, and those who use paper farecards and travel to 19 heavily used downtown stations would have paid even more.

Catoe said he shelved the proposal, which would have raised $64 million, because it didn't make sense to have such an uneven pricing system, especially because it was designed to charge daily commuters more than other riders. He also said the budget could be balanced, at least for this year, through layoffs, cuts and other measures. The total shortfall is $116 million.

"I'm pretty confident that we will be able to close that gap," Catoe said in an interview yesterday. "We need to keep it simple. I don't want to put one group against another. We had congestion pricing, and on paper, it was a good concept. But the public doesn't like it."

Instead, Catoe said he would propose a fare-increase plan this summer or fall that would be tied to cost-of-living measures, such as the consumer price index. Fares would rise at regular intervals rather than by big jumps every few years.

That idea has already drawn criticism from some Metro board members.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who chairs Metro's budget committee, said he supports Catoe's efforts to balance the budget without raising fares. But he said he has "serious questions" about Catoe's idea to link fares to the cost of living.

"I don't want something to be gussied up and repackaged and think it will be accepted because it has some index and occurs automatically," he said.

Catoe is also getting rid of a proposal that would have moved the subway system's opening time from 7 to 8 a.m. on weekends. He plans to keep a proposed 5 percent pay raise for nonunion employees.

After layoffs, he said, "we're going to have a smaller workforce that will be working a lot harder to pick up all of the extra duties."

After taking over in January, Catoe hired an outside consultant to "look at every position and every dime." This month, he announced that 100 positions will be eliminated from Metro's construction department, shrinking it by more than a third.

He plans to balance next year's budget through a combination of measures: more administrative cuts, a one-time transfer of funds from the capital budget to cover maintenance costs, and an accounting change that allows the agency to tap $12 million from unused farecards, money that is not counted as revenue.

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