Discussion Of Metro Fare Hike Postponed

Under General Manager John Catoe's proposal, the minimum peak rail fare would rise to $1.80 from $1.35, and bus fares would rise to $1.50 from $1.25.
Under General Manager John Catoe's proposal, the minimum peak rail fare would rise to $1.80 from $1.35, and bus fares would rise to $1.50 from $1.25. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 14, 2007

Moments after General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. detailed a proposal yesterday to raise rush-hour subway fares a minimum of 45 cents and bus rides by a quarter, Metro's board of directors blocked discussion of what would be the largest fare increases in agency history, saying the costs were too much for riders to bear.

Nevertheless, some board members acknowledged that Metro would have to raise fares to offset a projected $173 million shortfall in next year's budget, though they would not estimate by how much.

Catoe's proposal would increase the minimum peak boarding charge on Metrorail to $1.80 from $1.35, a 33 percent rise; increase bus fares to $1.50 from $1.25; and increase daily parking fees by $1.

Although Catoe had briefed board members privately about the size of the average increase, yesterday was the first time he gave specific breakdowns.

Suburban board members said the proposal unfairly targets commuters who park in Metro facilities and travel the longest distances during rush hour. The cost to park and take a round trip from Vienna or Greenbelt to Metro Center during rush hour, for instance, would increase by $2.90 a day, or about $64 a month, under the plan.

On average, the recommendations would mean that monthly costs would go up about $48 for passengers who park and ride, $11 for Metrobus passengers and $22 for riders of MetroAccess, the service for the disabled. The maximum peak-period fare for a train trip would rise to $4.50 from $3.90. Metrorail fares vary depending on the time of day and trip length.

"The reason this proposal is dead on arrival is that for some board members, there was a feeling that far too much is being asked by way of an increase," said T. Dana Kauffman, a Fairfax County supervisor who represents Virginia on the Metro board. "For others, it's a mix of that coupled with a fury over what they've proposed, which amounts to a shakedown of the longer-haul commuter."

Riders weren't pleased, either.

"That's insane," said Christopher Clark, 26, who takes the Orange Line from East Falls Church to McPherson Square. "There's at least one problem on one of these lines every day. Then they want to charge us more for a faulty system?"

Jack Corbett of MetroRiders.org said the "fare hike proposal is John Catoe's first serious misstep," adding that it "wasn't well thought out, wasn't cost justified." Corbett said the Metro staff offered virtually no details about the $173 million shortfall and no discussion on finding substantial internal savings, such as reducing overtime.

Board members postponed further discussion until a special session Sept. 27 so staff members could provide more details about each proposal and discuss them in the broader context of how Metro should set its fares.

Transit agency officials say expenses have soared in recent years as the system has set ridership records. The extra money at the fare box has not offset growing expenses, including an 80 percent increase in health insurance costs, fuel cost increases of more than 300 percent since 1995 and maintenance needs for the 31-year-old system.

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