Metro Is Still Cheaper
The June 24 cover story in Fairfax Extra, "The New Cost of Commuting," focused on an issue near and dear to hundreds of thousands of us living in the Washington area. The information presented on Metro system fare increases left out an important side of the equation, however: the money and non-money cost of alternative means of going to work.
I understand that people are frustrated with fare increases, but the simple fact is that it is not Metro's fault that fares are increasing. Local governments in the region, which benefit greatly from Metro's service through reduced road building and road maintenance costs, as well as reduced congestion in their jurisdictions, have lacked the political will to fund Metro adequately to keep fares down.
And the fact remains that commuting by car is much more expensive, even more than the new rates. Parking in most areas of the District is getting more costly, and the cost of driving has never been higher, with gas prices over $2 a gallon. On the money alone, Metro is a good deal for most people. Add to that the fact that driving in dense Washington traffic is very unpleasant for most people, and Metro looks like a great deal.
In particular, the article was one-sided in quoting Dave Beck, who suggested that he just might drive now because it wasn't worth it to take Metro.
Mr. Beck's new $10 in fares and parking is far cheaper than if he drives. He cites parking fees of $6 and leaves it at that. Either he or The Post should have pointed out that, at daily mileage conservatively estimated at 34 miles (17 miles each way), at 37.5 cents a mile (the current government rate) -- which we'll assume covers fuel, wear and tear, and higher insurance rates -- Mr. Beck pays an additional $12.75 a day. That makes Mr. Beck's minimum total daily expenditure more than $18.75.
Mr. Beck also suggests that he takes Metro because he is altruistic, saying, "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." Most people take Metro because, while sometimes frustrating, it is much less so than driving, and much cheaper.
Getting cars off the road is a good thing, too, but hardly most people's main motivation. To present a balanced view, the Post should have offered a supportive commuter's viewpoint or an economic analysis of Mr. Beck's commuting arithmetic.
I don't like fare increases either, but I won't hesitate to keep paying them, because it's much cheaper than any alternative I have.
A Word of Warning
On Ambulance Bills
The recent exchange of letters in Fairfax Extra about the county's new ambulance fees misses an important reality that my family has repeatedly experienced.
Ambulance providers dual-bill the victim and the insurers, if any. As with many medical payments, Medicare and the insurers bounce the charges back and forth until each payer pays its "approved" portion, eventually leaving the victim to pay the remainder. Now here comes the shocker.
Ambulance billers also dual-collect, unknown to the victim, who now gets re-victimized. How?
Ambulance billers not only take the insurance payments, but also rebill the victim for the amount that the insurers already paid. Yes, double payments. How does that happen?
Anyone who has ever been hospitalized soon encounters a billing nightmare. Sorry, no summary bill for all services received. Let's see: You get billed by the emergency room physician's group, the anesthesiologist, the hospital, the hospital's contracted laboratory services, each and every medical specialist who happens to somehow participate (this can be five or more practitioners) and finally your own doctor. And multiple bills, with differing billing cycles and shifting posting dates. Confused? Need an accountant?
As a former federal auditor myself, I did not obediently pay each medical bill upon receipt. Instead, I carefully cross-checked the multiple bills received from each of these factions and quickly discovered the real-world ambulance billing practices. Next, I paid surprise visits to these hard-to-find billing offices and quickly saw the multiple collections for the same charges.
Remedy? Not my complaint to the Virginia Department of Health's Office of Emergency Medical Services. A person there was no help in this dispute because it was neither a licensure nor training issue, which state legislators empowered that agency to regulate. Instead, I invoked the family's attorney, and counter-lawsuit actions, to force these uncooperative ambulance billers to provide and reconcile their real payment collection amounts to this double victim.
Donald E. White