Metro board to vote Thursday on fare increases

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Metro's board of directors is expected to vote Thursday to approve a historic fare increase for rail and bus service and fill a $189 million budget shortfall in the agency's $1.4 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The board is also expected to approve a $700 million capital improvement program for the next fiscal year that includes money to buy new vehicles and upgrade tracks and other vital infrastructure, according to Metro documents.

In addition, Metro employees are asking the board to draw money from the agency's operating reserve funds -- $5.6 million from fiscal 2009 and $600 million from fiscal 2008 -- to offset a larger than expected budget gap for 2010.

Metro officials disclosed this month that the transit agency's $40 million operating budget shortfall for this fiscal year will increase by $25 million because of lost revenue and other costs related to the winter snowstorms, as well as higher than expected paratransit costs.

The fare increase expected to be finalized Thursday includes nearly $109 million worth of rail, bus and paratransit increases, which will be implemented in three stages: Sunday, Aug. 1 and in the fall. One of the most complex components is a new 20 cent "peak-of-the-peak" rail surcharge during the system's busiest times.

About 300 Metro employees are rotating through 10- and 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, to carry out the computer programming, fare machine changes and an extensive information campaign to try to educate customers.

Changes going into effect Sunday include an increase in rail fares of about 18 percent for peak and off-peak travel and an increase of about 15 percent in the price of rail passes.

There will also be increases in bus fares and bus pass prices; the price of trips on MetroAccess, the paratransit service for elderly and disabled people; and fees for bike lockers and reserved parking. Metro plans to begin selling the new bus and rail passes immediately after the board votes Thursday.

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