At the final public hearing on Metro’s fiscal year 2015 budget, customers who use the system’s paratransit service expressed grave concern over another proposed fare increase.
Several MetroAccess customers who testified at Metro headquarters Thursday evening, some from the Accessibility Advisory Committee, said the hike would force them to skip dialysis and other doctor appointments.
“I’m very grateful for the service because it has allowed me a sense of independence,” an 11-year MetroAccess customer said. “That independence is going to be compromised because [the hike] won’t allow me to take MetroAccess to my doctors’ appointments, it’s not going to allow me to take MetroAccess to church.”
“It’s not only doing that for me, but it’s doing it for the thousands of people who are riders.”
Metro has proposed increasing rail fares by four percent (a hike of 10 to 20 cents per trip) and bus fares from $1.60 to $1.80 with SmarTrip and $1.80 to $2 with cash. MetroAccess fares would increase in line with rail and bus hikes, but no changes would be made to the complicated formula that determines fares. (“Customers may take trips that begin and end less than 3/4 of a mile from the nearest bus stop or Metrorail station and will be charged two times the fastest fixed-route equivalent fare.”) The maximum fare would remain $7.
“I am still feeling the effect of the last fare increase for MetroAccess,” another rider said. Many said the fluctuation in fares makes it difficult to use MetroAccess on a fixed income.
People also testified against a fare hike for rail and bus riders, including a man who said he’s a retired bus driver and regular Metro rider. “The fare, particularly on the rail side, has become unaffordable for many people, low wage workers in this area,” he said. “The people that are making money off the transit system — the Verizon Center, the Nationals stadium, the stores, the developers who are reaping millions and millions of dollars in surplus profit because a good public transit system — these people have the money, and they have to pay for its operation.”
Rodney Green, an economist and professor at Howard University, said it seems Metro’s public hearings “are trying to figure out, ‘Should we get money out of people who park? Or should we get money out of people who ride the bus? Or how should we turn people against each other as we struggle over how to get a few more dollars out of everybody’s pocket?'”
“The reality is that the people who have the money in their pockets aren’t the people who are riding the buses and the trains,” he said.
Ben Ball, the D.C. Riders’ Advisory Council representative, asked Metro officials to be “honest” about where money from fare hikes go to: operational costs. “By themselves, these fare increases are not going to build the infrastructure that customers have been demanding for years,” he said. “If Metro wants to justify an increase in fares for operating expenses, it should focus on the actual operational improvements that increased fares will go toward.” Ball targeted customer service, saying if it was “more responsive and substantive,” that would justify the fare hike.
A smaller number of people, some of whom protested outside Metro headquarters before the hearing, testified against background checks that preclude people with felonies from obtaining many WMATA positions.
“Metro is spending money — literally thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars — doing criminal background checks on people,” the retired bus driver said. “Many people in this community, returning citizens, are being denied the opportunity to work for the public transit system. That’s harming people. If you’re going to hurt people, you better have a damn good reason for doing it, and Metro does not have that.”