GREENBELT, Md. – At the first of six public meetings on a proposed Metro fare hike, several dozen people came to the Greenbelt Marriott to criticize the plan as punitive to the poor and disabled.
A majority of those who attended ride MetroAccess. Some were blind; others wheelchair-bound or otherwise handicapped. Others were reliant on the bus as a primary way to get around.
Under Metro’s proposal, fares on the rail lines would increase four percent, or about 10 to 20 cents per trip. Metrobus fares would go up from $1.60 to $1.85 with a Smartrip card, from $1.80 to $2.00 for cash. Express buses would jump from $3.65 to $4 and airport buses would go from $6 to $7. MetroAccess fares will increase in line with Metrorail and Metrobus, but fare costs are calculated per trip rather than a flat rate.
Parking would also increase 25 cents across the board and an additional 50 cents at Metro lots in Prince George’s County.
“Saving up for MetroAccess fares is like saving up for gas for a car. And a huge chunk of your monthly income, especially during the wintertime, goes to those MetroAccess trips,” says Rochelle Harod, who depends on the service.
Several members of the Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), including Chairman Patrick Sheehan, testified before Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, Assistant General Manager Jack Requa and board members Alvin Nichols and Marcel Acosta.
“People who are transit-dependent are really having a difficult time. They cannot get in their vehicle. They are dependent on rail and bus. Keeping those fares low will help people get to work, get to school. I think we don’t need a fare increase right now,” says Sheehan.
Other members of the AAC pointed out some of the stark realities of those using MetroAccess.
“People are making choices where they go for chemotherapy, physical therapy, and they shouldn’t have to make those choices,” says Paul Semelfort.
Denise Rush says a fare increase in not right.
“MetroAccess people are those who are not working, who are sick. People [who] have to choose between going to dialysis and buying food or medicine,” Rush says.
Other attendees also pointed out how this plays into the larger regional and national picture.
“Look at what’s going on right now in regards to the minimum wage. We have a movement where the minimum wage is being increased. So the rate increase [on Metro], in some degree, undermines that for the people most in need of some relief. This is already one of the most expensive areas in the country to live in,” says Gus Griffin.
Raymond Colbert argues that Metro should find other ways to raise revenue, through advertising or deals with local attractions, rather than passing the bill onto customers.
“Why is that every time they need money, [they say] ‘Let’s raise fares on the customers’? As if that’s going to draw in more customers,” he says.
Metro did see a drop in ridership shortly after the last increase went into effect in the summer of 2012, with customers upset over the hikes.
The debate comes as Congress has cut the transit benefits for federal employees from $245 to $130 per month while increasing the parking benefits. Both Metro and AAA Mid-Atlantic are concerned the move will drive people back into their cars and clog already-congested interstates such as I-270, 66, 95 and the Capital Beltway. Federal employees make up more than half of the Metro ridership, so fare increases on top of the cuts in benefits could mean trouble.
Metro’s board of directors could make a final decision on whether to accept the fare increases or reduce them at its meeting in March. If approved, the fare hikes would take effect July 1.
Customers have several more chances to testify about the fare increases: