Metro's budget committee endorsed a plan yesterday to raise fares and fees at the end of the month but added a new twist: The rail system would open a half-hour earlier on weekdays, at 5 a.m.
On a 7 to 2 vote, the directors who make up the budget committee agreed to raise the minimum subway fare by 15 cents to $1.35 and the local bus fare by a nickel to $1.25. The weekly bus pass would remain unchanged at $11.
The maximum peak rail fare would rise 30 cents to $3.90, and daily parking fees would increase by 75 cents. Monthly reserved parking would rise by $10 to $45.
The full Metro board is to vote Thursday on the increases, which would take effect June 27 and mark the second year in a row that fares and fees have gone up. Transit officials expect the fare increases will cause about 14,000 rail passengers and 3,200 bus riders to stop taking public transportation.
Metro directors, faced with a projected $23.4 million deficit in an operating budget of about $940 million, endorsed $29.2 million in fare increases. They said the surplus would be returned to the local governments that help fund Metro.
"You've asked for a fare increase, and then you send the money back to local governments," said Gordon Linton, a newly appointed board member from Montgomery County who was federal transit administrator under President Bill Clinton. "I find that highly unusual."
In the package endorsed yesterday, Metro would also charge a premium fare from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, but trains would run on an off-peak schedule. Currently, off-peak fares are charged during that hour.
Disabled and elderly passengers who use MetroAccess, the curb-to-curb service, would see a 10-cent increase in their base fare to $2.50. But anyone accompanying a MetroAccess-eligible rider on Metrorail or Metrobus would be able to ride free -- an offer that transit officials are hoping will encourage more disabled riders to take the regular transit system. For the first time, MetroAccess riders traveling beyond the service area defined by federal law would be charged a premium of up to $4 per ride.
Opening the subway at 5 a.m. weekdays instead of 5:30 is expected to attract about 1,700 riders, transit officials said. The earlier opening would begin in September and would cost the local governments that subsidize Metro about $700,000 a year.
The two directors who voted against the fare and fee package, Chris Zimmerman of Arlington and Jim Graham of the District, said the increases were excessive.
"I cannot support any increase in Metrobus" fares, said Graham, a D.C. Council member who represents the Adams Morgan neighborhood, which is heavily served by bus lines. "We're raising $29 million, but we're insisting that $1.8 million come from bus riders who are least able to afford this."
Zimmerman called the fare increases "sneaky" because during extensive public hearings this spring, Metro officials presented a range of increases but pledged they would not seek the maximum amount. In the end, that's just what they did, he said.
"It hurts our credibility, to tell people we're going to do one thing and then we turn around and do the other," Zimmerman said. "I don't think that's the right way to do business."