Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

The WMATA fare hike discussions all come down to MetroAccess

April 26, 2012 - 01:38 PM
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(Photo: John Hendel)

Today MetroAccess riders testified before the WMATA Board of Directors for an hour objecting to how WMATA plans to hike and structure its fares starting this coming July. The concerns echoed the ones voiced at WMATA's public hearings on fare increases months earlier. Today they again reached the highest Metro authorities themselves and while they stirred some positive engagement and discussion, the appeals ultimately stopped nothing.

The message was clear — don't raise fares. The riders shared a variety of troubling stories about their commuting struggles and financial difficulties. The fare hikes are detailed here and while they don't raise MetroAccess maximum fares any higher than the $7 they currently are, the adjustments to rail and bus fares mean that MetroAccess riders will likely pay more for individual trips (as of February, 2011: "MetroAccess fare is twice the equivalent fixed route SmarTrip ® fare based on fastest trip"). Bus fares will rise 10 cents and rail will rise by a few cents across a variety of peak and off-peak factors. Parking fares will rise by 25 cents. Of WMATA's three transportation services — the rail of Metrorail, the bus of Metrobus, and the disability paratransit service of MetroAccess — the most passionate riders clearly belong to MetroAccess. The paratransit service was formed in 1994, carries about 2.3 million passengers annually in a fleet of 600 vehicles, and today they showed themselves to, as in recent months, be the first and loudest to speak up about the state of their service.

"We have fixed incomes, we have high rents to pay," MetroAccess rider Josephine Johnson told WMATA. "If you would just be compassionate ... give us a decent break and do not raise the fares… Mother’s Day is coming up, and a lot of us would like to go to church. But we can’t go to church because the fares are so high.”

Each person testified for about two minutes each. "I don’t use MetroAccess as much because the prices are so high," one rider said. Another said, "Please reconsider what you’re doing and keep public transit public." One of the speakers was homeless. Earlier this spring, MetroAccess riders presented strong objections to fare hikes with a petition of 321 signatories and words similar to what the Board heard today. One overwhelming fear at those hearings suggested that these fare hikes would hurt the region's residents struggling with poverty and disability.

Patrick Sheehan, chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, questioned how Metro decided to approach their fare hikes, cuts, and approach revenue in their proposals.

"The fact that the WMATA Finance Committee on April 12, 2012, approved a motion to remove the 'Peak of the Peak' (POP) fares in order to simplify fare  calculations for rail customers means that the Board will forgo an estimated $16 million in rail revenue," wrote Sheehan in an April 17 letter to the Board on the fare hikes. "This is twice the projected 2012 revenue ($8 million) for MetroAccess. How is it financially feasible to forgo $16 million in revenue from rail fares but not financially feasible to adjust MetroAccess fares which are projected to only produce a total of $8 million in revenue?"

Why not peak-of-the-peak? Because those extra charges amounted to a pure revenue grab and didn't change ridership patterns, which was part of the policy motivation in implementing the charges. Following today's testimony, Sheehan seemed more optimistic about moving forward in providing recommendations for MetroAccess. Much is expected to shift beyond fares. New MetroAccess web and smartphone tools are discussed. D.C. taxicabs may come on board to supplement the paratransit fleet as well.

Outside of MetroAccess, few riders spoke up with any loud objection to the fare hikes today. Perhaps after months of discussion, most Metro riders are resigned to paying more. WMATA approved the fare hikes within two and a half hours of the hearing's start. Expect to pay more starting on July 1.

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