Alternative Metro Fare Hikes Proposed

The Maryland plan would raise the maximum fare per trip by 60 cents to $4.50 instead of 80 cents to $4.70 and seeks a smaller increase in distance charges. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 9, 2007

Days before the Metro board is scheduled to make a final decision on the largest proposed increases in subway fares and parking fees, members from Maryland have offered an alternative that would soften the impact on suburban and long-distance rush-hour riders.

The Maryland proposal, which is being circulated among board members, seeks smaller increases in long-distance trips and parking hikes. Its backers say the plan would raise almost the same amount of money because it assumes that fewer riders will abandon the system because of higher fares.

A decision on fares is expected Thursday, but if board members don't reach a consensus, it could be delayed. Metro officials have warned that delays will mean even higher increases later.

At public hearings last month, 150 people testified and 272 more submitted written comments to the board. More than two-thirds were riders from Maryland and Virginia. Nearly half said the proposed increases were too high; nearly half also said unreliable bus and rail service, poor communication about delays and malfunctioning escalators and elevators were among the reasons fare increases were not justified, according to a Metro report.

Nearly one-fourth of all riders called the proposals unfair to those who park and long-distance commuters traveling during rush hours. Even the handful who supported increasing fares said bus and off-peak subway riders should share more of the costs.

About 13 percent of customers said the increases would hurt low- and middle-income riders like themselves who could not afford to live in the District and have moved to outlying suburbs.

"This takes into account our need to raise the necessary revenue while reflecting the comments in the public hearings," said Maryland board member Peter Benjamin, referring to the latest plan. It has the support of the other voting Maryland member, board Chairman Elizabeth Hewlett, and state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, he said.

Virginia members had mixed reactions. Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board, said he was receptive to the proposal but as part of an overall package that lays out a long-range policy for determining how increases will be set and when they will take place. T. Dana Kauffman, who serves on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, said the Maryland plan still puts too much burden on suburban riders. Weekday ridership at end-of-the-line stations in Fairfax County was down about 2 percent last year from the year before, he said, "and that's before this wildly disproportionate increase in parking fees and fares."

It is unclear whether District members would support the latest plan. Emeka C. Moneme, the city's transportation director, would not comment, and D.C. Council member Jim Graham was traveling abroad last week.

The board has six voting members, two each from the District, Maryland and Virginia. The board needs four votes, including one from each jurisdiction, to adopt a fare proposal.

This fall, the contentious debate over fares pitted suburban members, who want to keep parking fees and train fares low, against city members, who want to keep bus fares low for low-income riders.

Under the proposal presented at the public hearing, the biggest increases would affect rush-hour subway riders, who make up the largest portion of daily users. That is still the case with the Maryland plan.

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