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Metro explains fare hikes

Thursday - 3/27/2014, 4:46pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- Metro's Board of Directors voted unanimously to pass a resolution raising fares on riders using trains, buses, MetroAccess and parking at a Metro lot on July 1.

The proposal raises Metrorail fares 3 percent on average. The average base trip on SmarTrip will go from $2.10 to $2.15. Off-peak fares will begin at $1.75, up from $1.70. A $1.00 surcharge for a paper farecard will continue.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles believes the system is already improving and this fare increase is important.

"This budget allows us to continue our work on improving safety, improving the reliability and the Silver Line. The operation of the Silver Line is covered in this budget. It also allows us to improve bus service," says Sarles.

"When I get on the escalators and much more often, they're working. Much more often than a few years ago. The trains are arriving on time much more often than they were. The place is cleaner, it looks better and the lighting in better," he says.

But he also admits a large percentage of the fare increases will actually go to higher labor costs and paying health benefits and pensions agreed to with the union that represents Metro employees.

"We're providing a public service. In order to provide customer service, it requires people. In the transit business, that means lots of people. Bus drivers, train operators, station managers and the people behind the scene maintaining all the equipment that we use. So certainly a large part of a budget has to be labor," says Sarles.

Metrobus fares will also go up, from a base of $1.60 to $1.75. Trips on express buses will go up from $3.65 to $4.00 and airport bus routes will go from $6.00 to $7.00. But Metro will eliminate the surcharge for bus riders who pay cash.

The decision came after a discussion during a Metro finance committee meeting two weeks ago where D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser and others objected to continuing the cash surcharge.

"Folks of modest means, they could not afford to put a lot of money on a SmarTrip card. So what they would do, in order to take advantage of a lower fare, they would actually load the money on their card as they got on the bus. That actually takes longer and certain cases, it was slowing down the boarding of the bus," says Sarles.

Parking fares will also go up $0.10 across the board. In the District of Columbia, drivers will now pay between $3.60 and $4.60. In Montgomery County, the fees will go to $4.35 to $5.10, and in Virginia it will go from $4.75 to $4.85.

In Prince George's County, most stations will see a $0.60 increase, or a $0.10 increase, plus a $0.50 surcharge. County Executive Rushern Baker asked Metro for the surcharge to help fund redevelopment around several Metro stations in Prince George's County. The higher surcharge won't apply at Addison Road, Landover or Prince George's County Plaza because not enough people use those lots.

MetroAccess fares will also go up for some riders, but down for others. The multiplier will remain at 2x. The multiplier is a formula to determine how much to charge a rider based on the quickest comparable trip from their origin to their destination on train or bus, then multiply that figure by two.

Since Metrobus and Metrorail fares will go up, MetroAccess will also go up. However, the cap for MetroAccess trips will be lowered from $7.00 to $6.50.

Metro compromised on MetroAccess prices after disabled riders turned out in numbers to public hearings in January and February to protest the move and how it impacts their tight budgets and ability to pay medical bills.

Board members also expressed similar concerns.

So will Metro see ridership decline when the fares go up on July 1?

"Certainly whenever you increase the price of anything, there will be some reduction. But we think in this case because the fare increase was so modest, that the reduction will be very, very modest," says Sarles.

Next month Metro will take up their capital budget, which goes toward infrastructure improvements, track repairs, escalator replacement and upgrades like newer 7000 series cars.

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