To expand ridership, Metro may lower fares again

Metro’s board plans to discuss changes that may lower fares and expand services for most of its riders, in hopes of increasing ridership for its bus and rail system.

In advance of the board’s Thursday meeting, WMATA released a presentation document that outlined some of the proposals.

One is to reduce Metrobus one-way fares to a flat $1, which is half the current $2 fare.

Also under discussion is a proposal for discount rail passes for low income riders for bus and rail. Eligibility for the discount might be determined automatically for residents on public assistance, such as Medicaid, or other federal benefits.

Authors of the presentation suggest WMATA could make up the difference on subsidized fares by collecting reimbursement from local governments.

Other suggestions for restoring and increasing ridership include:

  • Lowering late night rail fares to a flat $2
  • Reduced parking fees at Metro stations, including free parking in the evening
  • A flat $4 MetroAccess fare
  • Consolidating peak and off-peak fares for rail to encourage more ridership
  • Continuing to modernize fare payments

Among Metro’s concerns, the document said, is increasing equity and ridership for lower income workers, who are most dependent on public transit, especially Metrobus, and are more sensitive to price changes in both the rail and bus system.

By contrast, higher earners had more options, such as telecommuting and ride sharing, and often get discounted passes from their employers.

Even as the board navigates a loss in revenue caused by the pandemic, it has still expanded services for those who use the system. Over the summer, Metrobus expanded its weekday and weekend hours to 2 a.m. for 34 of its lines, while Metrorail changed its closing time to midnight.

After Labor Day, both rail and bus increased their service, while free rail-bus transfers were implemented. Reduced prices for weekly passes and weekend flat fares also went into effect.

WMATA is seeking a balance between increasing ridership for the community most dependent on it and avoiding a dramatic loss in revenue. For the 2022 fiscal year, WMATA relied on $726.6 million in federal relief aid to overcome budget losses related to the pandemic.

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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