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Metro rail and bus fares to increase; MetroAccess fare cap lowered

The fare increases for rail and bus riders will take effect around July 1. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The Metro board voted Thursday to raise fares for Metrorail and Metrobus.

The new fares, which will take effect around July 1, increase the cost of riding Metrorail by an average of 3 percent, though some riders will pay more depending on the time and distance they travel. People who park at Metro lots and garages will pay 10 cents more per day.

All bus riders will pay $1.75, whether they use the plastic SmarTrip cards or cash. This is a 15 cent increase for those using SmarTrip cards now. It’s a 5 cent break for riders who have been paying the 20 cent surcharge on cash payments. While the board reviewed several other proposals over the past few months, the one adopted Thursday matches what Metro General Manager Richard Sarles proposed in December.

Riders who use the MetroAccess paratransit service get a break: The board decided to cut the maximum fare from $7 to $6.50. Dropping the cap will affect about a quarter of the rides taken on this service for people with disabilities.

The 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 this winter, paratransit riders pointed out that the formula links their fares to the rail and bus fares, so they would wind up paying more.

In fact, MetroAccess riders dominated the hearings, and their efforts were rewarded by the board. By contrast, relatively few of Metro’s hundreds of thousands of rail and bus riders spoke at the hearings.

As is typical when the transit authority considers fare increases, the proposals put out for public review gave the board some leeway for its final vote. The Metrorail fare increase, for example, could have been 4 percent. The cash surcharge on bus riders could have put their fare at $2. The daily parking fee could have risen by 25 cents.

To wind up with the fares and fees approved Thursday, the board needed to cut expenses from the proposed budget or go to local jurisdictions and ask for increased subsidies.

The board chose to defer several spending items the staff said could be postponed without harm. This included plans to spend more on the regional bus priority corridor network. Board member Mortimer Downey said he supported the move “in light of the slow progress around the region” in getting the network in place for commuters.

The board’s unanimous vote Thursday had none of the tension that developed during the board’s first discussion of the fare increase options on March 13. 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 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 on March 13.

With the plan back to the $1.75 charge for all bus riders, Bowser said Thursday that “I feel comfortable about where we’ve landed” on fare increases.