Location Blamed for Small Turnout

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Only four riders showed up to voice their opposition to the largest increases Metro has ever proposed in rail fares and parking fees.

One rider blamed the small turnout on the location, a conference center in Reston, that was not easily accessible by bus or rail. The rider said she could not even find it on MapQuest. Metro board member Catherine Hudgins, who represents Virginia, acknowledged that it was possible the location might have contributed to the small turnout.

The four people who found the site said the increases were too high. "I understand you need to raise fares," said Mary Lewis, who commutes from Vienna to Federal Triangle. "But this falls disproportionately on those of us out in the suburbs."

She said the proposal, if approved by the board, would cost her an extra $600 a year. She said riders in the District, who take shorter trips, would not be hit as hard.

Peg Owens, 54, who lives two miles from the Vienna Metro, called the $1.15 increase in daily parking fees "a little bit outrageous." She said her other option -- taking the bus to Vienna -- isn't really an option because it takes 45 minutes.

She said parking at Vienna has become more difficult this year because a development has temporarily eliminated hundreds of spaces. If Metro increases the number of reserved spaces at the lot, as proposed, then ordinary parkers like her would get the double whammy, she said.

Riders also complained about packed trains on the Orange Line, one of Metrorail's most crowded. And they said federal workers' subsidies do not cover all their current commuting costs, much less increased ones.

The complaints came at the first of six public hearings this week on Metro board proposals to impose the largest increases ever in rush-hour rail fares and parking fees.

The hearings, to be held in Virginia, Maryland and the District, are likely to reflect similar complaints about service. Anger about parking fee increases are likely to dominate hearings in Rockville and Landover.

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, a 22 percent rise, 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 in Montgomery County. By comparison, the cost to take a bus would rise a dime for cash-paying passengers, an increase of 8 percent. The fare 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 in late October 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 for 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.

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

Under the proposal, the reserved parking fee would increase $10 a month, to $55, and the number of reserved spaces would also go up by 3,500, a 70 percent increase from the current 5,000. Reserved parkers pay the monthly fee in addition to the daily parking charge.

Some riders -- including off-peak subway customers, senior or disabled Metrobus users, and MetroAccess passengers -- would see no increase.

The remainder of the budget shortfall is expected to come from subsidies paid by jurisdictions served by Metro.

Metro estimates that the plan would generate about $111 million and that some, but not many, customers would stop riding. Almost three-fourths of the money would come from the increase in rush-hour train fares, 25 percent from increased parking charges and 1 percent -- about $1 million -- from higher bus fares for cash-paying riders.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company