Metro considers fare discounts as way to get rail riders back

Will fare discounts draw more commuters back to Metro?

The coronavirus pandemic has been a game-changer for Metrorail, but not in a good way, with ridership about 85% lower than it was before the pandemic hit.

Metro board member Michael Goldman said the transit agency needs to get creative and draw riders back, potentially by offering fare discounts.

“I think we need to give our riders some incentives to return to the system,” Goldman said. “We cannot continue to operate a rail system at 15% of pre-COVID ridership levels.”

He proposed moving away from fares that rise based on peak commuting times during a board meeting on Thursday, saying there should be a standard fare that stays the same throughout the day.

“I would suggest on a trial basis a simplified zone system,” said Goldman, proposing $2 in the District, $3 rides inside the Beltway and $3.85 rides outside the Beltway.

The discounts would start later this year, after Labor Day.

“We need to provide incentives, especially for long-distance commuters who are going to be difficult to bring back to rail,” Goldman said.

He suggested that Metro temporarily eliminate or discount parking fees at its parking lots and garages.

Board members will continue discussing the idea later this month.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld recently said that the agency was only able to avoid drastic service cuts and layoffs because the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress in March, provided $1.4 billion to D.C.-area transit agencies.

Before that, Wiedefeld proposed potentially closing 22 stations, ending service at 9 p.m. and increasing time between trains to help deal with a $210 million budget shortfall due to pandemic-related declines in bus and rail ridership.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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