Metro riders will pay higher fares and fees beginning June 27 after a divided Metro board voted yesterday to raise rates for trains, buses, parking facilities and special services.
By a 4 to 2 vote, the Metro board of directors raised the minimum subway fare by 15 cents to $1.35, while the maximum peak rail fare will rise 30 cents to $3.90. The local bus fare will increase by a nickel to $1.25, but the weekly bus pass will remain unchanged at $11. This is the second consecutive year that Metro has raised fares.
The price to park at Metro facilities each day will increase by 75 cents, and monthly reserved parking will rise by $10 to $45.
Metro officials also voted to open the rail system a half-hour earlier on weekdays, at 5 a.m., starting in September. Transit officials said the change is expected to attract about 1,700 riders and cost about $700,000 a year.
Metro leaders said the fare and fee increases were necessary to keep pace with rapidly rising costs that have led to a projected $23.4 million deficit in the system's $940 million operating budget. The increases are expected to raise $29.2 million, and Metro plans to return the additional money to the localities that subsidize the system.
"We cannot sustain the high growth in subsidies," said Robert Smith, the Metro board chairman and one of two Maryland representatives on the body. "The reality is, the system is crowded and has a lot of users, and people have to be willing to pay fees to fund the system."
But Chris Zimmerman, who represents Arlington on the board and who voted against the fare increases, complained that they were larger than the public was led to believe, and he warned that returning the extra funds to localities makes another increase likely next year.
"You put yourself $6 million in the hole for next year," he said. "That means it's going to be really hard to avoid raising fares for a third year in a row."
Many riders said yesterday that two fare increases were enough. Jerry Jen, who was waiting for a train at Gallery Place-Chinatown yesterday afternoon, said the changes were "ridiculous."
"It's too expensive," said Jen, who rides between Shady Grove and Crystal City each day. "They just raised prices a year ago."
The combined fare and fee increases will push the price of many suburb-to-city trips to the level it costs to drive and park downtown.
For instance, rush hour riders who park at Shady Grove and take Metro to Washington will pay $4 to park and $3.90 to ride each way, for a total of $11.80. That's $1.35 more than they pay today and is comparable to the parking and gas costs for a trip downtown.
"I think it's a ridiculously high price, especially considering the way service is going downhill," said Jeff Johnson, who will pay close to $8 a day to commute between Franconia-Springfield and Union Station. "They can't keep [the trains] running; they can't keep elevators running; several times a week there are delays. I just feel like if service and reliability are going down, then prices shouldn't be going up."
Johnson added that the cost has him thinking about hopping into his car instead. If he does, he will be one of about 14,000 rail passengers and 3,200 bus riders who transit officials expect will stop taking public transportation because of the higher costs.
The two board members who voted against the budget, Zimmerman and Jim Graham of the District, said they objected to increasing so many costs by so much, particularly for bus riders.
"Those people riding Metrobus are least available to afford any increase," Graham said. "We could absorb this in other ways and send a statement that we're going to hold bus riders harmless."
The board also raised fares for passengers who use MetroAccess, the curb-to-curb service for the disabled and elderly. Their fares will rise 10 cents, to $2.50.
In hopes of cutting the cost of the expensive service, officials voted to allow MetroAccess customers and their companions to ride free on buses and trains for an 18-month trial period. 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.
In addition, the board voted to charge premium fares from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, but trains will run on an off-peak schedule. Currently, off-peak fares are charged during those hours.