Whether it's on the roads, the rails or on buses, the cost of moving around the Washington region grew more expensive this week.
Gas prices are near all-time highs, taxi rates in the District just rose and downtown parking rates are increasing. For the second year in a row, Metro riders had to pay more to park at a station or board a train or bus yesterday, a development that left many of Metro's 1.1 million daily bus and rail passengers steaming.
"I hate it," said Dorothea Bradley, a fortyish Pentagon worker from Prince George's County as she crossed the Potomac River on the Yellow Line. "I hate the fare increases, and I hate Metro. They don't need more money. I need more money."
Sheryl Taylor, a 52-year-old diplomat with the Australian Embassy, was less than diplomatic. "It just stinks," she said as she emerged from a Red Line train at Dupont Circle.
Commuters using Virginia Railway Express, Fairfax Connector and Arlington Transit also began paying higher fares yesterday.
But the Metro increases caused the most widespread grumbling. The minimum subway fare increased by 15 cents to $1.35 and the local bus fare by a nickel to $1.25. The maximum peak rail fare rose 30 cents to $3.90, and daily parking fees increased by 75 cents. Monthly reserved parking saw the biggest increase, rising by $10 to $45.
Metro officials said they need higher fares and fees to close a $23.4 million shortfall in the operating budget. The transit system's operating costs are paid by fares from passengers, subsidies from local governments and revenue raised by Metro through advertising and other sources.
But the fare and fee package that took effect Sunday is generating $29.2 million in extra revenue, $5 million more than needed to fill the shortfall. Metro board members said they want to return the surplus to the local governments that help fund Metro.
Fares cover 55 percent of the operating cost of a Metro ride; the national average in 2001 was 38 percent.
But Metro board Chairman Robert J. Smith of Maryland said passengers should absorb a larger share of the cost. He and others noted that Metro fares and fees remained constant from 1995 to 2003, while operating subsidies paid by local governments grew every year. It was time for passengers to pay more and give cash-strapped local governments some relief, Smith said.
That argument didn't sway most Metro riders interviewed.
"Whenever they need money, they turn to the public, rather than decreasing the salaries for the top officials," said Mildred Muhammed, 44, who parks at the Branch Avenue Station and rides the Green and Red lines to Dupont Circle.
Several riders are creatively adapting to the new fares and fees. Sean McPhilomy, 38-year-old consultant from Fairfax County, has stopped parking at the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and instead searches for free parking spots in the surrounding neighborhood. "I just don't think I should be paying more for parking as well as for the train," he said.
One Metrobus rider said he bought 400 tokens before the price increased, which could last about 20 weeks and will save him $20.
Some said they would be amenable to higher fares if service improved. "I don't mind the nickel increase if they clean the buses up," said Theodore Nowlin, a 51-year-old District resident and Metrobus rider. "The buses are filthy. The seats are dirty. Two or three times a week, people are scared to sit down on the seats because they're so dirty."
Lindsay Godwin, 25, had time to contemplate the fare increase as her Blue Line train stalled somewhere in the tunnel south of Rosslyn Station. "I'd pay 15 cents more if I knew it meant more dependable service," she said.
Others were more accepting. "Everything goes up," said Susan Rivera, a 36-year-old Centreville resident who parks at the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Station and takes the Orange Line to McPherson Square. "The cost of living goes up. I'm okay with it as long as the service is good."
Transit officials expect the fare increases to cause about 14,000 rail passengers and 3,200 bus riders to stop taking transit.
For those who drive, the average cost of a gallon of gas has risen from $1.51 to $1.97 in the past year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. That means Sandy Proteau, who sometimes drives 50 miles or more a day, is spending as much as an extra couple of dollars daily. She has begun sketching out the most efficient routes to cut down on gas consumption for her 1989 Volvo.
People who work in Washington are also paying more to park -- it's as much as $12 a day in many commercial garages. Jennifer Jones isn't crazy about paying $214 a month to park in the District, but she said driving is still cheaper -- and more convenient -- than taking Metro. She used to wake up at dawn to try to get a parking spot at the Glenmont Station and then ride to Dupont Circle. Parking and fares cost her nearly $12 before this week's increase. That was too much, she decided.
"I hate to clog up streets, and I believe in public transportation," Jones said. "But they're pushing off most of the expenses of Metro on passengers. It seems totally unfair."
One change sparked some confusion. Metro, the region's single largest provider of parking, decided to go cashless at its lots and garages and compel everyone to pay for parking using a SmarTrip card, the reusable electronic card that can also pay fares on the subway and, recently, the bus system. Metro opted for a cashless system soon after The Washington Post reported that the agency could not account for as much as $1 million a year in parking revenue and that it suspected that cashiers were taking the money.
Some commuters ran into trouble when they tried to use credit or debit cards to buy the $5 SmarTrip cards at vending machines. The high volume of transactions overwhelmed the system at some points, and Metro asked commuters to feed cash into the machines.
At Shady Grove Station yesterday afternoon, a small crowd huddled around the three SmarTrip vending machines after each train arrived. Metro representatives eased the confusion for some, but the problem with credit card payments persisted.
At the garage, most drivers slapped SmarTrip cards against the sensor at the gate and cruised through quickly.
Those unaware of the change were counseled by two customer representatives in booths, who let the uninitiated -- mostly tourists -- exit without paying or by paying with paper Farecards.
Dennis and Mary Roach of St. Louis drove up to booth in a silver rental car, hoping to pay cash after a day of sightseeing. The customer service representative explained the card system, then let the Roaches exit without paying.
The SmarTrip system is confusing to tourists, who have to buy a $5 card for onetime use, the Roaches said. And it's impersonal, Dennis Roach added.
"What they are saying to me as a visitor is, 'I don't want to deal with you as a person,' " he said. "I'm very much against that whole philosophy."
Staff writer Karin Brulliard contributed to this report.