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Metro tweaks its fare hike proposal

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir
Looks to leave MetroAccess cap alone, scrap flat rate 'tourist' fares

Metro is scaling back its fare increase proposal after hearing from thousands of riders, scrapping plans to charge flat rate "tourist" fares and to raise the maximum fares for disabled riders.

The transit agency plans to propose the modifications to its board of directors on Thursday after announcing Sunday that an anticipated gap in next year's budget has shrunk by $16 million, according to spokesman Dan Stessel. Agency officials are proposing that riders and taxpayers share the benefit of the updated forecast, grown rosier with an improved economy. Still, both groups would feel the impact if the board approves the plan.

Spring break is over
Major track work on Metro is slated to begin again Monday, April 16, after a brief National Cherry Blossom Festival-induced hiatus. Riders can expect regular track shutdowns and delays for much of the remainder of the year, according to a new schedule released by the transit agency. And the Red Line will be especially hard hit. Rail service will be shut down along segments of that line for eight weekends during the summer. And then it will be shut down through much of the downtown core -- from Dupont Circle to New York Avenue -- on the weekend after Labor Day. For a full schedule of planned weekend shutdowns and track work, go to wmata.com.

The agency is asking local jurisdictions to pay $47 million more than $622 million in subsidies they are currently paying, an 8 percent increase, but down from the $53 million originally sought.

Riders would chip in an estimated $56 million more through higher fares that range from 25-cent parking fee increases to a $5.75 maximum one-way fare. Originally they were asked to shoulder $66 million of the shortfall.

Now the agency wants to keep MetroAccess fares capped at the current level of $7, instead of raising them to a maximum of $7.40 per one-way trip, according to a presentation.

It's a small victory for disabled riders who turned out in force at recent public hearings, arguing that the fares were already too high for a generally low-income population. All told, the agency says it received 4,212 comments about fare increases slated to begin July 1.

The agency also wants to scrap proposed $6 and $4 flat rates for paper farecards, charging a $1 surcharge per trip for riders using the cards. That leaves visitors with a surcharge four times larger than the current 25-cent fee and does not simplify the confusing fare structure as agency officials had wanted.

But visitors could buy a one-day rail pass for $14 on either paper or SmarTrip for unlimited trips.

It also plans to reduce the increase for bus riders who pay cash. Instead of facing $2 fees when paying cash, riders would pay $1.80. Riders using SmarTrip cards would still pay a dime extra over the current $1.50 rate.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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