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Metro Weighs Fare Increase of 45 Cents

Metro is looking to close a budget gap that has hit $173 million because of rising energy costs, expanded service and growing maintenance needs. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 8, 2007

The cost of riding Metro would rise an average of 45 cents a trip next year under a proposal being considered by General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. as the transit agency seeks to close a $173 million shortfall and relieve overcrowded trains and buses, sources said.

Catoe is scheduled to propose plans to close the agency's projected budget gap at a meeting with board members Thursday. The shortfall has ballooned because of rising energy costs, expanded service and growing maintenance needs.

An average fare increase of 45 cents, which would raise $141 million and could be implemented as soon as January, would represent a 29 percent rise in the average cost of a ride on Metro's bus and rail services. It would be the first fare increase in four years.

Metrorail fares vary depending on the time of day and trip length, with a maximum rush-hour fare of $3.90. Bus riders pay a flat $1.25. The increased rates would vary for bus and rail passengers.

Any fare-increase structure would probably include raising Metrorail's current $1.35 minimum charge, the subway's distance-based charges and the cost of a bus ride, said Metro board members and other local and state officials who have been briefed by Catoe and his budget team in the past two weeks.

Metro managers, including Catoe, declined to discuss the plan except to say that they are working on the details.

Agency officials say that more money is needed because one of the biggest shortfalls in agency history is predicted -- $173 million -- in an operating budget of about $1.3 billion. The extra money would help pay for the increased costs of fuel, electricity and union-negotiated pay raises, officials said.

Additional funds are also needed to expand service -- including running more eight-car trains and more buses on some overcrowded routes -- and to improve maintenance on the 31-year-old system.

This year's budget gap is also large because in March, Metro managers shelved a controversial plan to raise fares this year in favor of trimming costs and laying off employees. Officials have been saying since then that a fare increase is likely next year.

The two biggest sources for Metro's operating budget are money from fare boxes and subsidies from local governments, which this year contributed about $500 million. Catoe is also considering seeking a 6.5 percent increase, or an additional $32 million, in the taxpayer contribution, sources said.

Catoe might also look to privatize Metro parking facilities, which would raise millions in capital funds for the agency but could possibly lead to higher rates for customers.

In an online chat on Metro's Web site yesterday, Catoe said that Metro will continue to look for ways to cut costs.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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