NO ONE IS GOING to leap for joy at the prospect of higher Metro bus and subway fares on July 1. But the fact that officials throughout the region have succeeded in hammering out an agreement on a new fare schedule is important good news. Though complicated enough, the fare formulas approved last week are much simpler than the computer calculation riders would have had to make under the convoluted proposals being discussed before. Moreover, the new agreement - reached only after some intense begotiations between officials of different jurisdictions - means that the seriuos business of addressing Metro's long-range rail and bus plans will not be side-tracked by a prolonged, nasty fare fight.
The accord, if it survives public hearings next month, also means certain significant improvements for riders. For example, the Metro board is proposing a two-week transit pass that will give a buyer unlimited bus rides and up to $5 in subway trips for $10; and there are more expensive passes proposed for the longer sururban rides. In addition, the package will probably make possible the extension of subway service to Saturdays and weeknights starting in September. While we still think the board should consider adding Sunday service as well, agreement on this much extra service is a big step forwrd.
Under other provisions, the rush-hour, round-trip fares for most suburban travelers who use both bus and subway to get to and from work would increase by 30 cents a day. Rush-hour subway-only fares for most District residents would remain the same (40 cents) and there would be no change in the city bus fare, which is 50 cents during the rush hours and 40 cents at other times. Instead, most of an estimated $4-million deficit in Metro revenues would be reimbursed by the city government, since Washingtonians would benefit most from the unchanged fares.
That is essentially how the various jurisdictions wanted to handle the issue, with the suburbans meeting costs through the fare box and the city through subsidy. To be sure, had the Virginia General Assembly agreed to let Northern Virginia lead Greater Washington to a regionwide tax program, there might have been less pressure on the Metro budget. Instead, it took a series of often testy sessions between Metro representatives from the various jurisdictions before an agreement could be teached. Especially noteworthy was the sensitive negotiating conducted by three Metro board representatives: Arlington County Board member Joseph S. Wholey, D.C. Transportation Director Douglas N. Schneider Jr. and D.C. Councilman Jerry A. Moore Jr.
UNdoubtedly, citizens will have certain proposals for adjustments in the fare package. But at least now that the Metro board has dealt with the fare-increase issue, it can - and should - move swiftly to approve a budget and press for its speedy review by all the participating local governments.