Metrobus riders will be charged a flat $1.10 for nearly all trips and no longer will pay for transferring between buses under a dramatic restructuring of transit fares that takes effect Sunday.
For rail passengers, the new fare system unveiled by Metro yesterday means that evening peak fares will end an hour earlier, at 7 p.m.
In all, the changes will save money for about 40 percent of Metro's passengers, both bus and rail, said Richard A. White, the system's general manager.
The plan will end the Byzantine system of bus fares based on zones and eliminate the 10-cent transfer, introduced during the system's budget crisis four years ago. Transfers will be free and valid for up to two hours, rather than 90 minutes, and for multiple trips in any direction.
The exception to the flat bus fare would be a $2 charge on 22 "express" routes that connect points outside the Beltway with downtown Washington or the Pentagon.
Many bus riders yesterday were pleasantly surprised to hear of the coming change in fares. "What? You said they're going down?" asked Charles Lawhorne, riding the S1 bus south on 16th Street NW.
The 38-year-old construction worker, who lives in Anacostia and works in Silver Spring, calculated that the new system "will save me about $1.30 a day."
While the restructuring leaves intact the distance-based fares for Metrorail, train riders will get bus transfers for 25 cents, instead of the higher fees now charged in Maryland and Virginia. Passengers also could benefit from new passes for both train and bus travel.
The new system is the latest element in Metro's campaign over recent months to simplify fares, including the new acceptance of credit card payments and the introduction of electronic "smart cards."
"This is probably the most comprehensive effort to deal with this issue that I've seen in the industry, at least in so short a period of time," White said.
He estimated that less than 2 percent of Metro passengers would pay more under the plan, to ride the long-distance "express" buses. This reflects the agency's promise not to increase fares before 2002, he said. The last fare increase took place in 1995.
Though transit officials anticipate that the cheaper, simpler system could foster a 3 percent increase in bus ridership, the loss in fares is projected to cost Metro $10 million a year -- a hit that White says the agency can absorb because of its steady growth in ridership.
White stressed that the immediate loss in revenue will not require any increase in operating subsidies from the various governments and agencies that fund Metro.
"It's a dividend for our customers," he said. "It's going to grow the system in the future. It'll provide all the right incentives."
Metro has enjoyed a nearly 6 percent increase in weekday bus ridership since 1997, which White said partly reflects the District's renewed economic vitality. About 28 percent of Metro's 215 million annual riders rely exclusively on buses, while an additional 21 percent make combined bus and rail trips, according to agency figures.
Just over half the passengers travel exclusively on the rail system, which has registered a 5 percent increase in weekday loads since 1997. Though few of the fare changes directly affect the subways, transit officials expect this ridership could benefit indirectly as it becomes easier and cheaper to transfer from train to bus.
The most noticeable change, however, will be on the bus network, with the elimination of the unwieldy system that now charges passengers an increment of 25 cents to 65 cents each time they cross state lines or boundaries between seven different zones.
Many newcomers struggle with the current system. When the bus door opened at one stop on 16th Street yesterday, Damian Fulton, 20, asked the driver, "How much does it cost to get a transfer?"
"A dollar eighty-five," came the answer.
Actually, the base fare for Fulton's trip from downtown to Silver Spring is $1.10, plus 65 cents for crossing the Maryland line, plus another 10 cents for a transfer.
Fulton, a waiter in Silver Spring who just moved to the District from Jamaica, said the system is confusing: "Sometimes I pay a dollar ten. Sometimes a dollar eighty-five."
In Jamaica, it was much easier, he said, smiling. "There are no buses; only taxis."
Metro's Fare Simplification
Metro will launch a simpler fare system beginning June 20 to make it easier for riders to understand and to integrate the Metrobus and Metrorail systems further.
CURRENT SYSTEM NEW SYSTEM
Flat Metrobus fare of Flat Metrobus fare of
$1.10 plus zone and state $1.10 on most trips. For
crossing charges; three selected express* routes,
different express* route the fare will be $2.00.
Bus-to-bus transfer Bus-to-bus transfers are
charge is 10 cents. There free. They are valid for up
are limits on the time for to two hours, and there are
which a transfer is valid and no limits on route, stop or
the direction the passenger direction.
The District, Virginia and Standard rail-to-bus
Maryland each offer transfer charge of
different charges to board a 25 cents.
Metrobus with a rail-to-bus
D.C. 25 cents
Virginia 85 cents
Reduced fares in the Reduced fares in the
evening begin at 8 p.m. evening begin at 7 p.m.
A variety of Metrobus and Two new passes
Metrorail passes. introduced: Regional One Day Pass and Metrobus
Weekly Pass. The One Day
pass is valid for a full day
of unlimited rides
regionwide on regular
routes for $2.50. The
Weekly Pass is valid for a
full week of unlimited
travel regionwide on
regular Metrobus routes