Council member proposes giving DC residents up to $100 a month for Metro

On Tuesday, Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen reintroduced his Metro For DC bill, which proposes giving D.C. residents up to $100 a month for SmarTrip use and investing $10 million annually in bus service and related infrastructure.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council members Mary Cheh, Robert White, Janeese Lewis George, Brianne Nadeau, Anita Bonds, Christina Henderson, Kenyan McDuffie and Brooke Pinto have signed on as co-introducers.

“No matter how you slice it, an extra $100 a month saved on transportation would help a lot of D.C. residents and it would be a great boost to our WMATA system at a time when it needs to recover,” Allen said in a news release. “At the same time, it’s not enough to make it more affordable. We need to improve service by making it frequent, faster, and more reliable. That’s why the dedicated bus fund is just as impactful.”

Allen told WTOP that the bill will help people afford to ride Metro.

“It also puts $10 million a year into improved bus service and those neighborhoods and parts of our city that have not had great transportation historically. So in underserved communities, where we know bus improvements that DDOT can make can really make a difference in morning commute.”

In the Metro For DC bill, all D.C. residents would eventually be eligible to register a SmarTrip card and have it refresh once a month to a $100 balance. The amount on the card would never exceed $100, so D.C. would only pay for what residents use.

According to the website, only adult D.C. residents would be eligible for the SmarTrip benefit, as children are already eligible for the Kids Ride Free program. It can also be used for any regional transit system that accepts SmarTrip, including the DC Circulator, VRE, The Bus, the Fairfax Connector and others.

The proposed SmarTrip benefit is similar in concept to private employer-based commuting benefits.

The bill is designed to prioritize lower-income riders in the District. According to Allen’s website, “the subsidy would be rolled out in four tiers. The first would be to residents earning 300% above the federal poverty line or less. Next, it would be families earning less than the area median income, about $96,000. So we would start paying for the benefit for those who need it first, before we offer it to everyone else. Also, the dedicated bus fund prioritizes all investment into communities that have long been overlooked for serious investment as a commitment to transit equity.”

The bill would also make a substantial investment into the District Department of Transportation with a dedicated fund for improving and expanding existing bus routes and their related infrastructure, such as more dedicated bus lanes or shelters at bus stops for riders.

Funding for the subsidy could come from excess District revenue “once other existing obligations to debt servicing and the Housing Production Trust Fund are met,” according to Allen’s website.

“It will help get more people back on WMATA, plus an important boost for the essential workers who have been riding the whole time. And we can pay for it without raising anyone’s taxes,” Allen said.

The original Metro For DC bill was introduced in March 2020.

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.

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Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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