Metro will not seek a fare increase from its bus and rail riders but will ask local governments to pay higher subsidies to help underwrite a $548.3 million operating budget proposed yesterday for the year starting July 1.
If the proposal is approved by the Metro board and ratified by the area's local governments, it will be the fifth consecutive year without a fare increase for Metro's transit riders, who number about 639,000 a day on the combined bus and subway systems.
"If you want to reduce traffic and get people out of their cars, you can increase the subsidy for Metro or build more roads," Metro General Manager Carmen E. Turner said during a briefing for reporters. "This budget is designed to increase ridership."
Fare increases are invariably followed by reductions in ridership, transit statistics show. However, some public policy specialists argue that keeping fares constant in the face of rising costs either diverts the expense of transit to the nonusing general taxpayer or results in deferred maintenance as the transit system cuts costs.
The proposed Metro budget represents an 8.3 percent increase over this year's operating tab of $506.3 million. Turner is asking local and state governments to contribute $257.3 million, or $22.1 million more than they did this year, a 9.4 percent increase. The rest of the money comes from a $17.8 million federal subsidy and fares.
The operating budget is not to be confused with Metro's proposed $490 million rail construction budget for the 1989 fiscal year, much of which requires federal aid.
Policy arguments aside, roads in the Washington area are so crowded that public officials are promoting transit use. For example, Turner noted, both Prince George's and Fairfax counties recently cut bus fares on some routes to Metro stations to stimulate ridership.
"We're so successful, we'd be foolish to" raise fares, said Cleatus Barnett, who represents Montgomery County on the Metro board and served as Metro's Budget Committee chairman this year. He said the county "will not be supporting a fare increase . . . . There is absolutely no need for it at all."
Metro board member Ellen Bozman, who sits on the Arlington County Board, said "I was a little bit struck by the increase in the jurisdictional subsidies." But she added, "no one wants to have a fare increase."
Without a fare increase, Turner said, rail ridership will reach 9.3 million trips annually, a 6.9 percent increase over the current year.
The proposal includes improvements for the Farecard machines and the ventilation systems, and the electronic parking lot signs that sometimes fail to tell commuters when the lots are full, Turner said.
More than half the increase in the budget reflects higher labor costs, including a 3.5 percent pay raise for union employes and bigger worker compensation payments required by a recent court decision. Labor costs consume 74 cents of every dollar Metro spends.
Because bus service is more labor-intensive than rail, the jurisdictions with more Metrobus service would receive a proportionately larger subsidy bill. Metro provides the bus service requested by the local jurisdictions and bills them for the difference between costs and fares.
Thus, Prince George's County, which has added bus service, would pay $34.8 million, or 13.8 percent more than this year; the District, which uses more than half of Metro's bus service and pays the largest subsidy, would pay $113 million, or 10.3 percent more; Montgomery County's bill would be $38 million, or 8.6 percent more; the Virginia jurisdictions, which have contracted some bus service to private companies, would pay $71.3 million, or 5.7 percent more. The exact amount to be paid by each Virginia government is determined by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
Metrorail is expected to collect 73.2 cents per $1 of costs from its riders, up from 71 cents this year; Metrobus is expected to collect fares equaling 33.8 cents per $1 in costs, down from 36.9 cents this year.
Combined, the bus and rail systems should collect 52.2 percent of their costs in fares and the rest through local, state and federal subsidies.
Metrorail is expected to collect $172 million in revenue, up 9 percent; Metrobus is expected to collect $91.2 million, down 0.3 percent.END NOTES