Susan R. Paisner, a Silver Spring-based criminologist and writer, is an occasional Red Line Metro rider.
Metro is considering raising fares for big events. How many cliches fit? Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Penny wise, pound foolish. Here today, gone tomorrow.
I spent five years working for the American Public Transportation Association, putting out its biweekly print and electronic newspaper and writing speeches for the association’s president and annual chair. It took me very little time to comprehend two basic truths about public transit in general, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in particular.
Truth 2: Public transit agencies are incapable of communicating Truth 1 to their riders.
The financial truth notwithstanding, Metro could benefit from increased ridership. One way to do this is to make using the system easy and helpful, especially during such high-attendance public events as the Fourth of July and Inauguration Day — and protests.
Many people from this area who are not everyday riders use Metro to attend these events, so this provides a wonderful opportunity to persuade them to change their commuting habits. To achieve new ridership, however, Metro must ensure not only that their trains run on time but also that the massive crowds using them are processed smoothly and without incident.
Some of these events draw people from around the country. They likely will not understand that they must have a SmarTrip card ; nor will they likely know how to use it once they figure out how to obtain it. This lack of knowledge most often results in confusion, which in turn aggravates smooth and incident-free processing.
Using barrels for people to drop money into may sound retro, but oh-my-heavens it works: People zip through the stations, people are smiling, ridership is huge, everyone is happy.
So, I’m trying to think of a nice, polite way to convey these thoughts to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld (who otherwise is the best general manager Metro has had) and the Metro board, and frankly, I end up thinking in caps. To wit:
Hey, all of you proposing this plan that will maybe gain you some extra dollars and will certainly gain you enormous ill will and will pretty much ensure you don’t increase ridership one iota: THIS IS A VERY BAD IDEA.
Metro has been losing ridership, which isn’t surprising when people experience increased fares, highly reduced or temporarily suspended service, increased parking rates and overall unreliability.
Adding a fare hike for popular events just sounds greedy. If Metro needs more financial assistance, find other revenue streams, such as advertising or corporate support, but don’t — and let me repeat — don’t punish the riders. It won’t be enough to cover your costs, but it will be more than enough to turn people away.