The Washington Post

If not Metro fare increases, what does it take to unite riders?

A Red Line train stops for passengers at the Wheaton Metro station. The lack of unified opposition among Washington’s commuters over Metro rail and bus fair increases perplexes Dr. Gridlock. (Michael S. Williamson/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority has unveiled four proposals for fare increases for bus and subway riders in the Big Apple.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

Those and other fare hikes and toll hike proposals will go to public hearings.

In my experience with hearings in the Washington area, not only do residents show up in smaller numbers, but they also don’t scream as loud about fare increases as New Yorkers do. I guess that’s because this area is less dependent on transit, and people take rising fares in stride.

I think New York and Washington should keep things simple with across-the-board-only fare hikes for everybody.

Ed Gitterman, Bethesda

DG: In October, the MTA announced a menu of four potential fare-increase plans designed to raise $232 million for the New York transit system, giving riders until this month to stew over it.

The New York subway uses a flat fare system: $2.25 for a ride paid for with a MetroCard. Although its fare structure is simpler than ours, New York can still manage to muddle up the path to a balanced transit budget.

The four proposals “differ in the way they treat the base fare, the time-based unlimited-ride MetroCards, and the MetroCard bonus discount of 7 percent that customers receive for putting at least $10 on a pay-per-ride card. The current base fare is $2.25, or effectively $2.10 with the bonus discount. The current cost for a 30-day unlimited card is $104; a 7-day card costs $29.”

I wanted to say that for you just the way the MTA said it, just in case you think you need a Washington bureaucrat — or a Washington transit system — to make something sound complicated.

Not that we’re any slouches when it comes to complicated fare proposals. Ours just look different, as Metro board members try to balance urban and suburban interests and the varying needs of riders who use rail, bus or MetroAccess paratransit services.

When we have public hearings on fares, riders do not speak as one. Only a handful testify in opposition to the rail and bus fare increases. Even 2010’s “peak of the peak” surcharge, an across-the-board increase that targeted 9-to-5 commuters, failed to generate much unified opposition.

Many rail riders who show up at hearings want to complain about their own line or a problem at their station. Nothing will pack a hearing like a proposal to cut service on one neighborhood bus line.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that. It’s encouraging to see people so passionate about their transit service. But our lack of opposition to the fare increases puzzles me.

We have tens of thousands of people who are highly dependent on transit. In fact, they chose their residences because of transit access. So, unlike Gitterman, I don’t see that as the reason people seem to take fare increases in stride. My best guess: The transit subsidy available to many federal workers softens the impact of fare increases.

But my fear is that if transit users can’t make a unified stand on something as basic as fare increases, they’re unlikely to come together in making other demands for transit improvements.

Crosswalk safety

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Reading your Oct. 25 column concerning bikers, pedestrians and drivers at crossings, I got a good laugh as to who was supposed to stop when they meet one another.

If you live in Old Town, as I do, you won’t have to worry about it, because bikers zoom through stop signs at every block here. So you take your life in your hands when you dare to cross in front of them. While walking my dog in the crosswalk, I have had many close calls, as bikers pay no attention whatsoever to the crosswalk and feel that stop signs are for other people.

I wish the police would ticket these people. It might help slow them down before they seriously injure someone.

Phebe Brown, Alexandria

DG: That column was one of several that focused on how travelers interact at crossings. Many letter writers wanted to vent frustrations about how others either misbehave or create potential problems even when trying to do the right thing.

I know Brown is right that many bikers zoom through crosswalks and past stop signs. But I don’t believe any category of traveler has the moral high ground on this. I’ve recently heard from several drivers questioning why Rockville is using a new type of red-light camera that catches drivers who fail to stop on red before making a turn.

To them, rolling through a red light didn’t seem like a big deal. What could go wrong?

Police do ticket for all these offenses, but it usually comes to our attention during blitzes, such as the Street Smart enforcement campaigns. They’re worthwhile, but they can’t compensate for the day-in, day-out lack of concern for safety that we see among all types of travelers.



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