The Washington Post

Metro board approves rail and bus fare increases

(Rick Bowmer/The Washington Post)

Metrorail fares will rise by an average of 3 percent starting in July and Metrobus riders who use cash will no longer pay a surcharge, under a $1.76 billion operating budget approved Thursday by Metro’s board of directors.

After numerous discussions and a half-dozen public hearings across the Washington area during the winter, the board unanimously adopted a budget that will increase the cost of a typical subway ride by about 10 cents — from $2.90 to $3 — in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But the current average fare of $2.90 that Metro officials cite is merely the product of simple math: It’s determined by total fare revenue divided by the number of fares paid throughout the rail system. In practice, depending on which stations riders regularly commute between, some could face fare increases significantly higher than 3 percent.

Under the plan approved Thursday, no rail fare will exceed $5.90, up from the current maximum of $5.75, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

As for bus riders, the cash price of a trip now is $1.80, while SmarTrip card users pay $1.60. The board voted to eliminate the cash surcharge and set a flat $1.75 fare for all riders.

As is typical when the transit authority considers fare increases, the proposals put out for public review in January and February were varied, giving the board some leeway for its final vote. The Metrorail fare increase, for example, could have been 4 percent. The cash surcharge could have been retained, with the fare rising to $2. The daily parking fee in Metro lots and garages, which will increase 10 cents, could have risen by 25 cents.

The board’s vote Thursday had none of the tension that developed during its first debate over the fare options earlier this month. During that meeting, the key sticking point was consideration of raising the cash fare on buses to $2.

Board member Muriel Bowser, a D.C. Council member and candidate for mayor in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, recalled that General Manager Richard Sarles had said in December that the surcharge was no longer needed. “You want more money, and you want it to come from the bus riders,” she complained to her colleagues at the March 13 meeting.

With the fare set at $1.75 for all bus riders, Bowser said Thursday, “I feel comfortable about where we’ve landed” on fare increases.

Bowser voted in favor of the new fare structure when it was approved by the board’s finance committee. Because the entire board sits on the finance committee, final adoption of the new fares by the full board later in the day was certain.

Asked if he thought the fare changes would lead to a drop in revenue, Sarles said, “Certainly, whenever you increase the price of anything, there will be some reduction” in demand. “But we think, in this case, because the fare increase is so modest, the reduction will be very, very modest,” and will be offset by normal “organic growth” in ridership.

On Metro’s Red and Orange lines Thursday, a few riders said they were unaware of the fare increase and weren’t concerned about it. But others took the opposite view.

“It all adds up, and pretty soon some people can’t afford it,” said Laquita Bowles, 26, of Hyattsville, Md. On another train, D.C. resident Jeneise Campbell, 29, said, “I think it’s already too expensive. Like for me, a single person, I have to pay rent in the District and transportation to go with that. And it’s just a lot.”

The Metro board granted some relief to patrons of MetroAccess, the federally mandated van service for people with disabilities who aren’t able to use the rail or bus systems.

Currently, the cost of a MetroAccess ride is double whatever the fare would be for a bus or train ride between the same two points, up to a maximum of $7. The new budget lowers the fare cap to $6.50 for MetroAccess users, many of whom are among the neediest of Metro’s customers.

The proposed budget that Sarles presented in December called for no change in the formula used to set MetroAccess fares. But during the board’s six public hearings on fare increases, paratransit users pointed out that the formula links their fares to the rail and bus fares. So they would wind up paying more if rail and bus fares rose.

The fare increases are expected to take effect June 29.

The 29th is the date used in the board’s resolution, and it also conforms with Metro tradition to impose fare increases on the weekend before July 1, so that any glitches can be resolved before Metro faces its first rush hour with new fares.

The operating budget approved Thursday is separate from Metro’s proposed $1.14 billion capital improvement budget for the next fiscal year, which the board will begin debating in the weeks ahead.

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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.
Paul Duggan covers the Metro system and transportation issues for The Washington Post.



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