D.C. Counters Catoe's Fare Plan

Jim Graham, a voting member of the Metro board, says the District's proposal is fair and would make the system more efficient.
Jim Graham, a voting member of the Metro board, says the District's proposal is fair and would make the system more efficient. (Lucian Perkins - Twp)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

District members of the Metro board plan to present a fare proposal tomorrow that would leave the price of a bus ride unchanged while raising minimum rush-hour rail trips by 30 cents and parking fees by $1.25.

The proposal is a counteroffer to one recommended by Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr., whose plan would raise the cost of rush-hour train trips by 20 to 40 cents, bus rides by a quarter, and parking fees by 50 cents.

The counterproposal is also designed to shift the burden of higher fares to suburban users while keeping the cost down for bus riders, who District members say are least able to afford higher fares. The move puts pressure on suburban board members, who have resisted big increases in parking fees because they say long-distance commuters who park and ride bear the biggest burden under Metro's fare proposals.

Virtually all board members agree that some type of fare increase is needed to generate $109 million of a projected $173 million shortfall next year.

Board members have been working with agency staff to tweak Catoe's proposal to make it politically acceptable to all of the voting members so the agency can begin the public hearing process.

The longer it takes for board members to decide, the higher the increases are likely to be, Catoe has warned. Under Catoe's timetable, a fare increase would be put into effect in January. Each month of delay would cost the agency $6 million in revenue.

Jim Graham, a voting member who represents the District, said the District's proposal is fair and would make the system more efficient. The District's counterproposal would also raise $109 million in revenue, Graham said.

Although his suburban counterparts have argued forcefully against raising parking fees, Graham said that Metro's statistics show that two-thirds of suburban rail users do not park at its lots. Of the one-third who do, he said, "a significant number of those come from outside" the jurisdictions that pay for Metro.

Large numbers of Prince William County residents, for example, park at the Franconia-Springfield station, he said, but Prince William pays nothing to the transit agency.

Metro's operating costs are primarily shared by riders and taxpayers in the eight jurisdictions that the system serves.

Maryland board member Peter Benjamin said he had not yet seen the proposal but said it was "unlikely" that suburban members would agree to a parking increase higher than the one proposed by Catoe.

At the same time, he said suburban members were working with Catoe to set an increase for Metrobus that "is fair but is low enough that the District will feel comfortable," yet substantial enough that long-haul rail commuters would not "take a big hit."

At $1.25, bus fares are already among the lowest for major U.S. cities. Suburban board members argue that rail users, who pay close to 80 percent of the cost of their trips, already heavily subsidize bus riders, whose fares cover only about 35 percent of the trip.

One set of board members is not going to be able to convince others "who's the greater victim" in a fare increase, according to Virginia board member T. Dana Kauffman.

The only way to "cut the Gordian knot" and reach consensus, he said, is to increase everything in proportion until the number reaches $109 million.

The District's proposal would also add 3,500 reserved parking spaces, a 30 percent increase over the current 5,000. Reserved spots cost $45 a month, and many lots fill quickly and have long waiting lists.

At some stations, such as Glenmont, reserved parking waiting lists are more than four times longer than the number of reserved spaces.

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