Paula Nowak, who rides Metro between Vienna and L'Enfant Plaza on weekdays, said she believes Metro does not deserve a fare increase because of the system's constant breakdowns and other interruptions.

"The service has gone downhill, and they are increasing the fares again. It's crazy," she said as she was heading home. "It's very aggravating, but I don't know what to do because you have no choice. You are a captive audience."

Such are the woes of other captive Fairfax area commuters as they face higher Metro, Fairfax Connector and Virginia Railway Express fares with Monday's rush hour. The boost in non-rush-hour Metro fares starts Sunday.

There's no escaping the rise in commuting costs by driving a car, with gasoline prices above $2 a gallon in recent weeks.

The cost of a round trip on Metrorail from Vienna to downtown Washington starting Monday will be more than $7, an unthinkable expense when the Orange Line station opened 18 years ago with a $2.30 fare to downtown.

Parking back then was a buck a day; on Monday it will climb to $3.75. To exit the parking lot, commuters will need a SmarTrip card because attendants no longer will be there to take cash, a change made after attendants at some lots were caught stealing parking fees.

The cost of taking a Connector or Metrobus to a Metro station -- or elsewhere in the county -- also will go up next week.

The reasoning behind the fare increases is simple. Area transit agencies must recover more money from riders to meet rising costs. When costs went up in 1986, transit officials froze fares but asked local governments to chip in higher subsidies. Now, they are turning to the fare gates to make up a $23 million deficit.

As it is, the county government spends about $40 million a year on Metro and Connector subsidies.

Not all the transit news is bleak. One coming benefit for riders is the opening of Metrorail stations a half-hour earlier on weekdays, at 5 a.m., beginning in September.

Metro officials stressed that this year's increase is only the second time in nine years that fares have been raised. But the last hike was a year ago, and some riders said they are weighing whether to drive.

"It's to the point where it's hardly a benefit" to take Metro, said Dave Beck, who rides between Vienna and Federal Center SW, a round trip that will now cost him more than $10 in fares and parking. "I want to do the right thing and keep my car off the road, but at this point it's not going to be saving me any money," Beck said. "There is a lot near my office [where] I can park for $6 a day."


Customers buy farecards Monday at the Franconia-Springfield Station. Starting Sunday, riders will pay more to use Metrorail. ON THE COVER: At the Franconia-Springfield Metro station Monday, passengers board a train, top left, and descend to the platform, right. Beginning next week, the rush-hour fare to Metro Center will go up 25 cents.