Metro Passes Largest Fare Hikes in Its History

T. Dana Kauffman was the only member to vote against the increases.
T. Dana Kauffman was the only member to vote against the increases. (Dayna Smith - Dayna Smith/ftwp)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007

By an overwhelming majority, the Metro board approved the largest increases in subway fares and parking fees in the agency's history yesterday, with the biggest hikes affecting rush-hour riders who travel longer distances.

After months of contentious debate, the board compromised in a 5 to 1 vote that will raise the subway rush-hour boarding charge by 30 cents, to $1.65 per trip, and increase daily parking fees, which are as high as $4, by 75 cents for six months. The board has an option to raise parking fees an additional quarter after that. Virginia member T. Dana Kauffman cast the sole opposing vote.

The fare and fee hikes are scheduled to take effect Jan. 6 and would be the first such increases in four years, officials said. There are no increases for off-peak subway fares or MetroAccess. Bus fares would increase by a dime for cash-paying passengers but would remain $1.25 for riders who pay with electronic SmarTrip cards.

As a result, rush-hour riders, who make up the biggest portion of daily users, will experience the largest increases. A trip from the Vienna Metrorail station to Dupont Circle would increase from $3.65 to $4.35; a trip from Shady Grove to Tenleytown would go from $3.35 to $4.

The fare hikes are intended to raise $109 million to help close a projected shortfall in next year's budget and help cover rising energy costs, expanded service and growing maintenance needs. Local governments served by Metro will also be paying more to the agency to cover the budget gap. Officials estimate that the plan would raise $3 million to $4 million less than the targeted $109 million and that some, but not many, passengers would stop riding.

Since the fare discussions began, the public debate has pitted suburban board members, who want to keep parking fees and train fares low, against urban members, who want to keep bus fares low for low-income riders.

I. Michael Snyder, who chairs the Metro-appointed Riders' Advisory Council, said the board's actions did not represent the sentiment of the riding public, and he was therefore resigning as a member of the group.

"In good conscience, I can no longer work with such a non-visionary board," Snyder told board members yesterday. Snyder, who takes Metrorail from Rockville to Ballston, predicted that the fare and fee increases will cause riders to climb back into their cars.

More than 1.2 million passengers ride Metrorail and Metrobus daily. Although ridership has soared in recent years, the rate of growth has slowed, while expenses have ballooned.

The plan adopted yesterday was a compromise crafted by Maryland members to lessen the impact on long-distance riders after much public feedback. Members had little maneuvering room because they could only reduce fares outlined in an earlier proposal presented during public hearings. The District's insistence on keeping bus fares low resulted in larger increases from rail fares and parking fees.

That earlier proposal called for higher distance charges for rush-hour subway trips, a parking increase of $1.15 and an increase in reserved parking spaces.

But that plan was highly criticized. More than 400 customers testified or submitted written comments; more than two-thirds were riders from Maryland and Virginia. Many said the increases in subway fares and parking charges were too high and not justified by unreliable service.

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