Metro board members approve fare hikes

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro riders can expect to pay more for their trips starting July 1, with bus fares climbing 10 cents, parking up 25 cents and rail trips rising by as much as 75 cents.

The biggest change, though, will hit the less frequent riders who use paper fare cards on the rail system, under the plan that won preliminary approval Thursday. They will now pay $1 extra for each one-way trip.

With parking and a possible new 5-cent station improvement surcharge on each end, a rider could end up paying as much as $18.70 for a round trip.

What your new fare will look like:
RAIL
Peak SmarTrip $1.95-$5 ->$2.10-$5.75
Off-peak SmarTrip $1.60-$2.75 -> $1.70-$3.50
Paper farecard users pay $1 extra per one-way trip
BUS
SmarTrip $1.50 ->$1.60
Cash $1.70 ->$1.80
Parking
Rates vary from $3.25-$4.75 -> up 25 cents
Bike lockers $200->$120 annually

A Metro committee approved the slate of fare hikes unanimously, though the increases still need the rubber stamp of a full board vote on April 26.

It will be the fourth round of fare increases since January 2008.

The fare hikes are intended to help fill a $103 million gap in the agency's proposed $1.6 billion operating budget. The agency is asking local jurisdictions to absorb the remaining $46 million, an 8 percent increase over the $622 million in subsidies they are currently paying. The board still has to hash out those and other details of the budget, though, including the agency's plan to add 877 positions to its already 11,000-strong work force.

Under the fare plan, peak rail fares are rising by an average 5.7 percent, but some riders will see their trip cost drop slightly, as they will no longer have to pay the 20-cent peak-of-the-peak surcharge during the busiest times of day. The agency said it's scrapping the fee because it wasn't changing rider behavior as intended and added unnecessary complexity to the system.

But a new 5-cent fee could come into play. The agency could add a nickel surcharge at two stations per jurisdiction to fund station improvements, though which stations have not been determined yet.

Off-peak riders will pay from $1.70 to $3.50 depending on the distance traveled, though the farthest riders, who currently pay a maximum of $2.75, will face a bigger jump than short-trip riders.

Bus riders will pay a dime extra, meaning $1.60 for SmarTrip riders and $1.80 for those paying cash. That's a reprieve from the initial plan for cash payers to shoulder a 30-cent hike.

Tourists and other infrequent riders will have another option besides the $1 paper fare card surcharge for rail trips. The agency is replacing the limited $9 one-day rail pass with a $14 pass with no time restrictions.

Still, board member Mortimer Downey, who as a federal appointee represents the tourists who descend on the city, said that surcharge and pass are more reasonable than a plan to charge a flat $6 for any paper fare card trip outside the central core. He said a family would have likely chosen to drive and park downtown, rather than pay for everyone to ride.

"When my two kids and three grandchildren come, I won't have to write a loan for them to ride the system," he said.

The hikes are somewhat tempered from initial proposals: Cash-paying bus riders and MetroAccess riders are among the marginal winners. Disabled riders who use MetroAccess will still pay double the rail and bus rates, but the fares will be capped at $7, instead of the planned $7.40.

Still, board member Tom Downs said, "I'd never characterize any fare increase as having less of a sting."

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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