The next to last hearing on Metro’s fare increase proposals is in D.C. tonight at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle St. NW. The hearing, where people can testify on the fares and other budget issues, will begin at 7 p.m., but there’s an open house at 6 p.m. for discussions with Metro officials about any topic of interest to riders. (It’s near the Tenleytown Metro station.)

The transit authority, which spreads the hearings across the D.C. region, held one last night in Arlington, a few blocks from the Ballston Metro station.

I’ve said that all transportation is local, and people who testify at hearings tend to talk about issues affecting the area immediately around the hearing site. But the 22 people who testified at the Arlington hearing tended to focus on issues affecting the entire transit system rather than strictly neighborhood concerns.

Chris Zimmerman, who has served on the Metro Board, advised his former colleagues not to “put it all on the riders” when it comes to raising revenue. He acknowledged that the board must then turn to people like him, since as an Arlington County Board member, he has a vote on Metro’s governmental subsidy.

But he urged the board to seek funding for its day to day operations from the federal government, since Metro is a “system substantially designed around the needs of the federal government.”

He noted the impact on two types of riders if Metro goes ahead with the fare increases: “Choice” riders, the people who take transit because they like it, might find they don’t like it that much and will drive instead.

But fare increases are a particular hardship for “non-choice” riders, the people who really depend on the transit system. Many of the speakers after Zimmerman use the MetroAccess paratransit service for people with disabilities. MetroAccess fares are twice the fare on the fastest comparable route for Metrorail and Metrobus. So any fare increase on the regular routes affects the MetroAccess fares.

Dennis Jaffe, a former chairman of the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council and now executive director of BRAVO, an Arlington County advocacy group for tenants, spoke about the fare proposals’ impact on people who ride buses and don’t use SmarTrip cards.

The Metro Board is looking at several proposals to create flat fares of $4 or $6 for the paper Farecards, as well as idea to round off the bus fare to the nearest dollar, meaning $2.

“The riders who can least afford the higher cash fare are also the least likely to be well-informed about both the higher costs of paying with cash versus using SmarTrip, and also about how to obtain and continue using a SmarTrip card,” Jaffe said.

Metro should be more aggressive in reaching out to those riders who are least likely to use SmarTrip cards but most likely to benefit from them, he said. Jaffe estimated that daily riders who paid the higher fares with cash could typically expect to pay for about 30 SmarTrip cards in a year with the amount of extra money they’re paying in cash fares. (The cards cost $5.)

“Metro needs to conduct its outreach efforts like an effective political campaign conducts its efforts to reach and turn out voters on Election Day,” he said.

Jaffe was one of several speakers who urged Metro to get more customer-friendly.

Michael Perkins, a transit advocate who blogs on the Greater Greater Washington Web site, urged Metro to offer a more sophisticated array of transit passes, tailored to benefit particular types of riders. And Metro should make them all available on SmarTrip, he said.

Michael Grace, an Arlington resident and Metro rider since 1985, said the rider experience has become “increasingly challenging.”

His proposals for adjusting fares and service to demand were some of the most interesting and radical, though they didn’t sit well with some of the other speakers.

While the Metro board is considering elimination of the peak of the peak surcharge at the height of rush hour, Grace proposed a surcharge on rail trips inside the Beltway between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., to capture people taking short business trips and can afford the extra fee.

He also suggested restricting weekend service to stations inside the Capital Beltway, as part of a plan to better focus on what he defined as Metro’s core customer base: the weekday commuter.

His proposals for fine-tuning service to match ridership included one item I think would be popular: Adjust the escalator directions to meet demand, rather than imposing a one-style-fits-all system on the stations.

Metro’s final hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church, 6201 Belcrest Rd., Hyattsville. That’s near the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station.