Metro seeks input on across-the-board fare hikes

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro is asking for riders to pay more for their bus trips, train rides and parking spots.

But first, riders have a chance to sound off on the plan through six public hearings the transit agency is hosting starting on Monday. Metro also is seeking thoughts through an online survey begun on Wednesday.

Riders have faced fare increases before. The agency typically forecasts a budget shortfall to cover as it crafts its next budget because costs to run the system have outstripped the money that riders' fares and other revenues raise.

Want to have a say?
Metro plans to host six public hearings on its proposal to increase fares. All meetings begin with an open forum at 6 p.m., followed by a public hearing at 7 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 27 Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda
Wednesday, Feb. 29 Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Cafeteria
7130 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church
Thursday, March 1 Matthews Memorial Baptist Church John H. Kearney, Sr. Fellowship Hall 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Monday, March 5 Washington Lee High School Cafeteria 1301 N Stafford St.
Arlington
Tuesday, March 6 St. Columba's Episcopal Church 4201 Albemarle St. NW
Wednesday, March 7 First United Methodist Church
6201 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville To register to speak or submit a written comment:
Fax 202-962-1133 or email speak@wmata.com to sign up. To submit written testimony by 5 p.m. March 12, fax or email comments to writtentestimony@wmata.com. One can write to: Office of the Secretary, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 600 Fifth Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. Metro also is seeking opinions through an online survey until 5 p.m. March 12 at www.wmata.com/budget.

In 2010, riders ended up with the largest fare increases in the agency's history after fending off cuts to train and bus service. Last year, taxpayers kicked in $66 million more in subsidies from the jurisdictions Metro serves to avoid all but a handful of bus service cuts and bus fare increases.

The agency has not proposed cutting any service this year. But it is seeking fare increases to fill an estimated $66 million gap in its $2.6 billion budget proposal. It is also asking local jurisdictions for $53 million extra, 8 percent more than the agency is now receiving.

The agency says it needs the money for higher labor expenses, including rising pension costs. But it also says it needs to add 877 jobs as it tries to handle a backlog of work while meeting new guidelines to avoid overworking employees with unsafe 16-hour shifts.

The agency has proposed a few options that represent the maximum fares that could be charged, but Metro's board could decide to charge less than what's on the table.

Under the plans, rail riders who travel during peak times using SmarTrip cards would typically see about 5 percent increases on what they pay now, the agency estimates. Those who ride off-peak would get less of a discount. Bus riders with SmarTrip cards would pay 10 cents more per trip.

The agency says it is trying to make the rail fares simpler. It has proposed ditching its 20-cent peak-of-the-peak surcharge on the busiest 90 minutes of the morning and evening travel periods.

It also is considering various ways of creating a flat price for occasional riders who use paper farecards, charging either a set fare based on the time of day regardless of distance traveled or creating a zone system. Paper farecard users would pay a premium of either $4 or $6 per one-way rail trip. A third option would be to add a $1 surcharge for any trip using a paper farecard.

Metro also is considering adding a 5-cent surcharge to as many as six rail stations to pay for station improvements.

Bus riders paying cash would pay $2 per trip, a 30-cent increase. Parking would rise by 25 cents. MetroAccess riders would continue to pay twice the comparable rail or bus fare, which amounts to fare increases.

Metro is also considering changes to its passes, charging up to $14 for an all-day pass or eliminating it entirely. It is also proposing adding a 28-day pass but it would be limited to paper farecards only.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner