METRO GENERAL Manager Richard A. White has responded well to a number of complaints, including escalator dangers, subway braking problems and slow telephone information services. His latest move: bus fares. Four years ago, when Metro fiddled with the fares, the new math not only upped the costs for riders but also compounded an already bewildering bus fare system. It's still not easy for first-timers to discern how much to drop into the box when they board, but Metro has simplified the system. Officials estimate that the latest changes will save money for about 40 percent of Metro's passengers.
Under the old fares that Metro introduced during a budget crisis, too many bus charges were based on zones. In addition, a 10-cent charge was instituted for transfers, which were valid for no more than 90 minutes, with limits on the direction the passenger could travel. The charges for rail-to-bus transfers were confusing too; the District, Maryland and Virginia each had a different charge. Effective last Sunday, bus riders are charged a flat fee of $1.10 for nearly all trips. (The older even-dollar fare was much simpler, but Metro appears bent on keeping the change.) Transfers are free again and valid for up to two hours for multiple trips in any direction.
Transit officials estimate that the new system could generate a 3 percent increase in bus ridership but is projected to cost Metro $10 million a year. Mr. White notes that Metro should be able to absorb the loss because bus ridership has been increasing steadily. The higher numbers -- a nearly 6 percent increase in weekday bus ridership since l997 -- are said to reflect new economic activity in the District.
If this continues, maybe the fares could be dropped by that dime's worth of difference-and eventually on down to free rides. For now, however, Mr. White and the Metro board have earned a debt of thanks from riders old and new. Now if only they could post more hints at bus stops and on the buses themselves about where the bus routes really go . . .