Should Metrobus fare be balanced?

Saturday, November 6, 2010; 6:13 PM

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Your report that Metro is again anticipating a budget shortfall made me wonder. I'm usually a Metrorail rider, but I've recently been riding Metro buses and think it's a bargain at $1.50. Yet Metro reports the actual cost of a bus ride is more than the cost of a trip on the subway.

What's the logic that gives bus riders such a huge a subsidy? And why hasn't Metro raised the price of a bus ride to $2 or $2.25 (like Chicago and New York ) to help cover this huge budget shortfall? I suspect that extra cash could easily fund the replacement of a few problem escalators and elevators.

Perhaps the next time Metro cries about funding, instead of cutting Metrorail service, implementing another fare increase or raising parking prices, Metro should take a serious look at bus fares.

Jon Rochetti, Fairfax

Metro continues to live close to the edge on its finances. The Metro board approved the transit authority's biggest-ever fare increases in the spring and launched a summer of discontent as riders struggled to figure out what surcharges they were paying and when they were paying them.

But for all that, Metro's finance staff again faces a challenge. The budgetary year isn't off to a great start, and a principal area of concern is bus ridership. For July through September, Metrorail ridership was about the same as the comparable period a year earlier, but Metrobus ridership was off by 7 percent.

Transit officials say the fare increase, combined with the weak economy, the reduction in time allowed for a free bus-to-bus transfer, and the fact that only 70 percent of the buses are on time, are major factors in the ridership decline. That's not the best environment in which to consider raising bus fares further.

But it's not the only argument against going for a fare structure like the one in New York, where it costs $2.25 to ride either the local bus or the subway. We have a different transit history and different transit constituencies. Even though we have VRE and MARC, Metrorail still plays the role of suburban commuter train for many riders. Many of them are federal workers, whose rides are subsidized by the government. (That may be one reason that rail ridership has been stable.)

Many of the bus riders have lower incomes and less stable jobs. They are less able to absorb a sharp increase in fares. For all the debate that went on last winter and spring over who should pay to balance Metro's budget, there was no serious effort made to match the fares. And I don't believe that would fulfill the mission of public transportation or help Metro with its long-term budget problems.

Cellphones vs. safety?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It seems to me that given the number of accidents, deaths and injuries over the past few years that safety should be, by far, its highest priority. Then I read in The Post that Metro is quibbling over whether to replace defective tracks or provide riders with cellphone service.

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