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Longest distance Metro riders to shoulder brunt of fare hikes

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

Metro's longest distance riders -- suburban commuters -- are likely to bear the brunt of new fare hikes, especially those who ride during the least busy times.

Metro has said that the fare increase that the board preliminarily approved last week will raise rail fares by an average 5.7 percent. But for those traveling the longest distance, fares will jump 15 percent during peak travel and 27 percent during off-peak times.

Those who drive to the stations -- also more common for suburban commuters -- will have to pay 25 cents more as well for parking. That's $1.75 more in total per day for a round trip.

Who bears brunt of Metro hikes
MAXIMUM RAIL FARES
Peak SmarTrip: $5 ->$5.75, UP 15%
Off-peak SmarTrip: $2.75 -> $3.50, UP 27.3%
MINIMUM RAIL FARES
Peak SmarTrip: $1.95->$2.10, UP 7.6%
Off-peak SmarTrip $1.60 -> $1.70, UP 6.3%
BUS
SmarTrip $1.50 ->$1.60, UP 6.7%
Cash $1.70 ->$1.80, UP 5.9%

"It's a doubly whammy for people who live in suburban areas," said former Metro board member and current Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay. "And these are the areas where Metro really needs to be increasing transit use."

McKay, who was forced out from Metro in January to make way for a state appointee, fought parking fee increases in his four years on the board. "I think I was the only member of the Metro board who thought it was part of the rider's fare," he said.

Driving into downtown and parking will become cheaper than taking Metro for some commuters, he said. That in turn raises congestion, hurting air quality and clogging the region's economic arteries.

But Metro officials said that those traveling the longest distance are still not paying as much per mile as those with shorter commutes, even with the hike. The maximum fare caps the cost of trips below what it would be if Metro charged for actual miles traveled by the longest riders.

Fewer riders will also pay the maximum fare, because it will kick in for those who travel 16 or more miles instead of the current 14, added spokesman Philip Stewart.

"This will reduce the number of people paying max fare," Stewart said. "Currently during the peak a.m. period, only 13 percent of trips are paying max fare. After the fare change, only 6 percent of a.m. peak trips will pay max fare. "

Metro officials say that they did not prioritize trip length in determining the fares increases. Instead Metro is trying to undue some of the past. By aligning off-peak and peak fares with identical mileage breakpoints they hope to eventually make the fare system easier to understand, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

The fare hikes of 2010 also disproportionally hit peak period riders, he said, especially among short-trip customers because of the 20-cent peak-of-the-peak surcharge for the busiest times of the rush.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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