The care and feeding of Farecard, the automatic fare-collecting system that always confronts and sometimes confounds Metro subway patrons, actually costs about $4 million more annually than is budgeted, Metro General Manager Richard S. Page said yesterday.

In an interview with reporters on his long-range plans for Metro's complex subway and bus fare structure, Page said that by the time pilferage, security police, routine servicing of the machines and counting the money are added, Farecard costs Metro about $6 to $7 million a year. This year's budget had included $1.4 million for Farecard, but a crash program started last summer to improve its reliability has raised that to about $2.2 million.

Page asked Metro's board yesterday for two to three more months to complete a recommendation on simplifying fares. That recommendation will clearly include modifying, and possibly eliminating, the Farecard system, Page told reporters.

Farecard was invented because it was politically necessary to devise a subway fare schedule that would charge lower fares for short trips (mostly within the city) and higher fares for longer trips (mostly made by suburbanites). One of the problems with a single-fare system is that it subsidizes the long-haul commuter at the expense of the short-trip rider.

The only way to collect a mileage-based fare is to force the rider to report to a machine or person at both ends of the trip.