- (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
WMATA's fare hikes are expected to kick in around July 1, 2012, so let the countdown begin. But what will they look like? That question still lingers.
The Metro Riders' Advisory Council understands that WMATA, despite recent charges of corruption, may need more money from its riders as well as the local jurisdictions if the Washington region will continue receiving anything resembling quality transit. Most observers have slammed the notion of raising our commuting fares, but the possibility seems more and more like an inevitability. The question is quickly becoming more and more not if but about how any fare hikes, intended to raise another $66 million from Metro's rail, bus, and MetroAccess services to help enable the transit agency's $1.6 billion in operating expenses, will manifest.
"The Council understands the need for fares to increase to prevent drastic reductions in already stretched service and to help balance Metro’s budget," writes RAC Chair Kelsi Bracmort in an April 4 draft letter to the Metro Board of Directors.
A month ago, WMATA held public meetings about the possible fare hikes. Several frustrated riders insisted that Metro didn't deserve any more of the public's money and cited several shortcomings to the service. The proposed fare hikes, people said, would fall hardest on the poor and those with disabilities. On March 22, Bracmort noted that several of the riders' council attended these meetings to help inform their understanding.
The 21-member council was founded in fall of 2005 to advocate for the region's transit riders and attempt to do so now through recommendations on the WMATA proposals, which it will finalize at its April 4 meeting. Riders have, for instance, long requested an option for an unlimited monthly rail pass, which the council recommends in its initial draft of recommendations (which may well change pending approval). Wouldn't you like one of those? DCist was proposing one more than half a dozen years ago, for Christ's sake.
The Riders' Advisory Council hasn't yet concluded its positions on the fare hikes, which Metro first outlined here, but has the tentative positions outlined in its April 4 letter to the Board here:
• Peak-of-the-Peak Surcharge: While it didn’t achieve its policy goal of shifting ridership outside of peak commute times, the Council prefers the retention of the Peak-of-the-Peak 20¢ surcharge. The $12 million in revenue that the surcharge provides constitutes a significant portion of Metro’s revenue and should not be eliminated at this time.
• Rush Hour/After Midnight Fare Increase by CPI: The Council prefers increases in the fare charged during rush hour and after midnight periods by the biennial Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 5.7%, including increases to the max fare of approximately 5.7% to $5.30.
• Increase Max Fare to $6.00: The Council does not support an increase in the maximum fare to $6.00, which would represent a 20% increase over the current max fare.
• Increase Off-Peak Fares to 75% of Peak: The Council can accept an increase in the Off-Peak fares, as well as changes to the way off-peak fares are calculated, which would result in off-peak fares more closely tracking peak fares. However, given the current limitations on off-peak service due to Metro’s capital rebuilding program, constraints which are expected to continue for the foreseeable future, the Council would prefer a smaller raise in off-peak fares – to 65-70% of peak fares, and/or a lower off-peak cap than the currently-proposed $3.50.
• Paper Farecard $4/$6 Time-Based Flat Fare: The Council prefers the implementation of a flat fare system for paper farecards for peak/off-peak fares, rather than the “zone- based” flat-fare proposal. However, if Metro’s aim is to move riders to SmarTrip cards, it must increase the cards’ availability and clearly explain to riders the benefits of using them before implementing such a fare structure. SmarTrip cards have been in use for thirteen years now – it is simply unacceptable that less than half of stations offer SmarTrip cards for sale. Further, reloading SmarTrip cards at private retailers continues to disappoint; the Council strongly encourages the Authority to redouble efforts to sign and expand agreements with large and small retailers to allow for convenient SmarTrip loading.
• Bus Fare Increase by CPI: The Council prefers increasing the local bus fare by the CPI to $1.60 and the increase in a 7-day pass to $16.
• Cash Bus Fare Increase to $2.00/$4.00: The Council prefers increasing the cash bus fare to $2.00 for local buses and $4.00 for express buses. This increase, however, needs to be accompanied by an increase in the number of outlets that sell and reload SmarTrip cards, both to encourage SmarTrip card use and to discourage reloading onboard buses.
• Parking Fee Increase by 25¢: The Council prefers increasing parking rates at Metro- operated lots by 25¢ and allowing Metro to better adjust reserved parking spaces to match demand. The Council reminds the Board that demand at some lots continues to outpace capacity – indicating that parking fees could, and should, be increased if elasticity exists.
• Unlimited Use Rail Passes: The Council supports the creation of unlimited-use monthly passes as provided for in the public hearing docket. In order for these passes to provide a convenient option for riders, they must be available on SmarTrip® and should be available for purchase using funds from riders’ SmartBenefits accounts.