Metro Won't Raise Fee To Park

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Metro fare and fee increase instituted in January has raised enough money that the agency staff will not recommend that parking fees rise again in July, officials said yesterday.

Ridership has grown in the three months since the agency's largest fare increase in history went into effect, officials said. As a result, Metro is on target to raise the revenue needed to help close a projected shortfall in next year's budget.

When the fare increase was approved in December, the Metro board left open the option of raising parking fees an additional 25 cents. Riders pay up to $4.75 a day to park in Metro lots and garages.

Average weekday rail ridership grew 6 percent in January, 4 percent in February and 3 percent in March, compared with the same periods last year, statistics show. Ridership on an average weekday is about 750,000. Budget analysts predict a 3 percent growth rate in rail ridership over the next few months.

Metro's rail chief, Dave Kubicek, attributed the ridership increase to mild winter weather, improved on-time performance, 30 rail cars added for peak periods, and rising gas prices.

Although the biggest proportion of riders use Metro during rush hour, more people are taking the train at midday and in the evenings, statistics show.

In the past seven weeks, "we've had pro hockey, pro basketball, the NCCA tournament, the opening of the new baseball stadium, the cherry blossoms and the pope coming, all on top of normal ridership," Kubicek said. "I think it shows this system is no longer viewed as a way to get to work or get back home but also for entertainment and leisure."

Average on-time performance improved for the fifth month in a row, with the Red and Orange lines hitting the goal of being 95 percent on time in March, according to agency figures. It was the first time in nine months that any of the lines achieved that goal.

The transit agency raised fares and parking fees Jan. 6 to help offset a projected gap of $109 million for the budget year that begins July 1 and to help cover rising energy costs, expanded service and growing maintenance needs. Local governments served by Metro also will be paying more to cover the shortfall.

The fare increase raised rush-hour subway fares 30 to 75 cents, depending on the distance of the trip. Daily parking fees, which were as high as $4, increased 75 cents. Bus fare increased a dime, but only if riders pay cash; it remains unchanged at $1.25 for passengers who pay with a SmarTrip card.

Bus ridership remained about the same between January and March, compared with the same periods last year. Average weekday bus ridership in March was 445,000. But officials said SmarTrip card use on buses has increased from 20 to 26 percent since the fare increase.

In January and February, rail ridership during the morning rush increased more than 7 percent over the previous year, and ridership during the evening period increased 6 to 7 percent from a year ago, according to agency statistics.

In March, morning rush-hour rail ridership declined slightly, and evening peak ridership grew slightly over last year. Officials said there was one fewer weekday this March than last year.

Midday ridership grew by 4.7 percent in January over the previous year, by about 2 percent in February over the previous year, and by 6.5 percent in March over the year before.

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