Friday, October 26, 2007

Metro Floats Proposal to Increase Fares

This morning the Post reported that Metro is considering a significant fare increase. On a positive note, no decision will be made until December after the Metro board holds public hearings. After all is said and done, I think that it's unlikely that rates will increase as much as proposed. Unfortunately, if the proposal does pass, it will only cover $89 million of the current $109 million budget shortfall leaving us with some continuing safety and service issues as well as higher fares.

Rush hour train
Current rate: $1.35 to $3.90
Proposed rate: $1.65 to $4.70

Bus fares
Current rate: $1.25
Proposed rate: $1.25 for SmarTrip users, $1.35 for those paying with cash
It has also been suggested that paper transfers be eliminated. There are plans to distribute free SmartTrip cards to low income residents.

Parking fees
Current rate: $3.75-$4
Proposed rate: $3.90-$4.15
Reserved space: $45/month + daily fees

Post reported that board representatives from the 'burbs tried to keep maximum fares and parking fees low while Council member Jim Graham, the DC rep to the Metro board, was most concerned with keeping bus fares down because of the lower income of DC riders.

I like the idea of increased Metro funding, and I can afford the extra $0.60 a day to get from U Street or Dupont to downtown destinations. Some city residents will also be more than happy to pass the burden of the fare increases on to suburbanites
after all, they use DC's resources without paying taxes. Nevertheless I have two big issues with this proposal.

1) Would it be so bad if all Metrobus users had to pay a $0.10 or more fare increase? If bus riders made a round trip every day the total increased cost would be $6 per month, assuming that no transfers are used. Metro also has in place a number of discounts that help some low income riders; I assume that similar policies would remain in place

* Students who are DC residents pay a reduced fare.
* Children under 4 ride free.
* Seniors and the disabled pay half the regular bus fare when using a special fare cards, senior SmartTrip cards, or a Metro issued ID.
* Some Anacostia routes cost only $0.75.
* Riders in Fairfax County pay $1 for regular buses and $2 for an express bus.

If the fares are truly not affordable for some, could we not implement a discount SmartTrip fare system similar to the one used for seniors?

2) I think that unlike gasoline demand that demand for Metrorail will be more elastic; there are alternatives to training into the city — driving and the express bus chief among them. The express buses currently cost $3 each way, and I haven't read of any proposals to increase the fare. If a suburban rail rider defects to the bus, he would contribute up to $3.40 less per day to Metro. A park and rider could save up to $7.55 per day by taking the Express bus.

Here's the really scary scenario: more people drive into the city. If it costs a park and ride customer $317 a month to have a reserved parking space and pay for his Metro fares, doesn't a monthly parking contract downtown look appealing? If nothing else, the occasional downtown drive with early bird special parking rates may be enticing. Of course lengthy car commute times will continue to encourage some to use public transportation.

Granted, I have no idea if the Metro board has considered the above issues in their discussions. They also may have access to commuter data that I don't have. But I want to be assured that we have some realistic estimates on demand elasticity and revenues before this proposal moves forward.

Am I overly paranoid? What do you think about the fare increase?

I'm working on an entry about the history of U Street and Logan. I hope to post it later today or tomorrow. The thesis that I've developed is that it's not just traditionally defined gentrification that has changed our neighborhood.

There may also be zoning trouble for the proposed O Street market/Giant/hotel mega complex. I'm so bummed. More to come on this soon.

1 comment:

Mr. 14th & You said...

I have a problem with the fact that this is--once again--nothing but a stopgap solution to Metro's perpetual funding woes. If suburban riders are so concerned about rising costs (as they should be), then they should be harrassing their local officials to provide Metro with the guaranteed funding it needs to resolve safety concerns, service issues, and expand appropriately. As you mentioned, these fare increases aren't even projected to meet Metro's current shortfall. And you can bet that in another 1-2 years we'll be getting the same story, and yet another fare increase.

Where will it end? Answer: it won't until there is a permanent funding solution found for Metro.