A regional study group recommended yesterday a series of measures to increase ridership on the Metro subway system, including subsidies by government and private companies to workers who commute by rail.
Federal and local governments should consider subsidizing the cost of special transit passes that would provide their employes with discounts of 5 to 10 percent on Metro fares, the panel said.
In addition, the transit authority should consider selling Farecards to private businesses at a discount, the study group said. These companies would then be expected to "match that discount" by distributing the subway fare tickets to their employes at cut-rate prices.
"These discounts might result in diversion from automobiles and alleviate traffic problems," the seven-member panel said in a report. The group noted that some employers now provide subsidies to employes who commute by car by offering free or low-priced parking.
The task force, which included officials from the District, suburban Maryland, Northern Virginia and the transit agency, outlined its findings in a 39-page report to a committee of Metro's board of directors. The Metro committee is expected to consider the panel's recommendations next month.
Metro subway ridership reached a peak of 356,900 trips a day in September, partly because of the recent opening of the Red Line extension linking the Van Ness-UDC station on Connecticut Avenue NW with the Grosvenor station north of the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County.
Nevertheless, Washington area officials long have expressed concern about Metro ridership, partly because of increasing traffic congestion and the multimillion-dollar costs of operating the rail system.
The study panel also suggested more parking spaces near Metro stations, special discounts for subway rides at times other than rush hours, further efforts to attract tourists to the rail system and improved access to subway stations through expanded bus service and road construction.
The group urged officials to provide local governments with a financial incentive to take steps to increase Metro ridership by revising a formula under which the costs of operating the rail system are split among counties and cities in the region.
The existing formula has "the effect of often providing a disincentive for an individual jurisdiction to take actions to increase Metrorail ridership," the report said.
The panel also suggested moves to discourage commuters from traveling by car, including imposing high taxes or license fees on parking facilities.
The report, which encompassed a wide range of issues dealing with rail fares and costs, proposed several steps to "help mitigate negative public reaction" to fare increases. It suggested timing them to coincide with expansions in service and revising fare-setting procedures.
On one controversial issue, the panel suggested eliminating discounts for elderly and handicapped passengers during rush hours, arguing that disabled riders "traveling at this time are making work trips and thus can afford the full fare." It also questioned Metro's $2.40 cap on fares as "an artificial constraint."