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Rider Outrage May Lead Metro to Tweak Fares

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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2007

Metro board members are proposing the largest increase ever in rail fares and parking fees, but some members say they will be able to soften the blow if they hear from enough riders during public hearings this week about which increases would hurt most.

The biggest increases would affect rush-hour subway riders, who make up the largest portion of daily users. The proposal would increase rush-hour boarding charges by 30 cents to $1.65 and increase the maximum fare per trip by 80 cents to $4.70.

A $1.15 increase in parking fees would be added at Metro lots, where spots cost as much as $4. The cost to take a bus would rise a dime for cash-paying passengers, though it would remain $1.25 for riders who pay with electronic SmarTrip cards.

The increases are aimed at raising $109 million to help close a projected shortfall in next year's budget. The proposal was adopted two weeks ago after much public debate that pitted suburban board members, who want to keep parking fees and train fares low, against city members, who seek to keep bus fares low to ease the burden on low-income riders.

Board members say fares will definitely go up, with the increases taking effect in January. But they also said that the proposal would probably change based on what increases riders are more outraged about.

"No one wants a fare increase," said Maryland board member Peter Benjamin. "But given that we have to increase fares, we just have to hear from the public which portions of the proposal they object to the most."

It won't help the decision making, he said, for riders to simply say they don't want any fare increase. "There is enough wiggle room so that if the citizens do in fact come, we have room to hear what they have to say and adjust the fares to make them less onerous," he said.

Board member T. Dana Kauffman, who represents Virginia, put it this way: "I would encourage [people] to turn out and to come mad. There is a certain amount of apathy that should not be here."

Kauffman, who like other suburban members is opposed to the higher rates proposed for long-distance commuters, called one measure to increase the number of reserved parking spaces "patently nuts." He said he would refuse to support several measures in a final vote, "even if it doesn't get us $109 million."

The proposal seeks to raise the reserved parking fee $10 to $55 a month, and to increase the number of reserved spaces by 3,500, a 70 percent increase over the current 5,000. Reserved parkers pay the monthly fee in addition to the daily parking charge.

The remainder of the budget shortfall is expected to come from subsidies paid by jurisdictions served by Metro. That amount is being increased, but Jim Graham, who represents the District on the Metro board, said he could "imagine a case being made to increase subsidies" even more if not enough money is raised from fares.

Under Metro rules, the board can only reduce fare and fee increases once they have been approved for public hearing. So if they were to lower one, that would not lead to raising others.

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