Tag Archives: Rates

Customers To Metro: We Can’t Afford Another Fare Hike


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.”

MetroAccess riders fear impact of fare increases

Riders who have disabilities and use the MetroAccess paratransit service are worried about the impact that impending rail and bus fare increases will have on their own costs.

The transit authority has not proposed any changes in the formula that sets their rates. But in Metro hearings over the past week, many MetroAccess riders have said they would prefer that the formula did change.

MetroAccess users either can’t or can’t easily travel on the regular bus or rail service. Specialized vehicles get them from their homes to their destinations, including doctors’ appointments, physical therapy sessions, shopping or work.

Calculating Metrorail fares can be complicated, but train rides don’t have to deal with this MetroAccess formula: “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, paying no more than $7 per one-way trip.”

What’s clear to the MetroAccess riders is that if the fare goes up for bus and rail riders, it will have a bigger effect on the cost of the paratransit rides.

Regina Lee, a member of Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, a citizens’ panel, urged Metro board members at the Tuesday night hearing in Rockville to consider changes in the formula that would reduce the impact on people with disabilities.

The Metro board could reduce the fare multiplier to something less than double the equivalent fixed-route fare.

Also, Lee said, the board could set a maximum fare for MetroAccess that is less than the current maximum of $7. (The proposed maximum peak fare for Metrorail is $6, or 25 cents higher than it is now.)

Before the hearings began, most public attention was focused on the proposed increases in bus and rail fares. But it’s the MetroAccess customers, rather than the Metrobus and Metrorail riders, who have been making the strongest case for attention at the hearings so far.

One exception was the testimony from Junette Wilson at the Rockville hearing. Wilson, 21, of Gaithersburg is a student at Trinity College. She calculates her current transit cost at $685 per semester. And she’s one of the rail riders who waits at the station of the lower, off-peak fares to kick in. The rail fares are “starting to be unaffordable for a lot of us,” she told board members Tuesday.

After the public hearings are done, the board can’t increase the fares beyond the proposed rates announced before the hearings started. But it can reduce the proposed increases to lessen the impact on riders. And it also can fiddle with the formula governing how the fares are applied to MetroAccess riders.

Two hearings remain:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 5: Arlington Central Library, 1015 North Quincy St., Arlington.
  • Thursday, Feb. 6: Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW in the District.

Metro rate-hike plan assailed as unfair to poor, disabled

Metro meeting (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

GREENBELT, Md. – At the first of six public meetings on a proposed Metro fare hike, several dozen people came to the Greenbelt Marriott to criticize the plan as punitive to the poor and disabled.

A majority of those who attended ride MetroAccess. Some were blind; others wheelchair-bound or otherwise handicapped. Others were reliant on the bus as a primary way to get around.

Under Metro’s proposal, fares on the rail lines would increase four percent, or about 10 to 20 cents per trip. Metrobus fares would go up from $1.60 to $1.85 with a Smartrip card, from $1.80 to $2.00 for cash. Express buses would jump from $3.65 to $4 and airport buses would go from $6 to $7. MetroAccess fares will increase in line with Metrorail and Metrobus, but fare costs are calculated per trip rather than a flat rate.

Parking would also increase 25 cents across the board and an additional 50 cents at Metro lots in Prince George’s County.

“Saving up for MetroAccess fares is like saving up for gas for a car. And a huge chunk of your monthly income, especially during the wintertime, goes to those MetroAccess trips,” says Rochelle Harod, who depends on the service.

Several members of the Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), including Chairman Patrick Sheehan, testified before Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, Assistant General Manager Jack Requa and board members Alvin Nichols and Marcel Acosta.

“People who are transit-dependent are really having a difficult time. They cannot get in their vehicle. They are dependent on rail and bus. Keeping those fares low will help people get to work, get to school. I think we don’t need a fare increase right now,” says Sheehan.

Other members of the AAC pointed out some of the stark realities of those using MetroAccess.

“People are making choices where they go for chemotherapy, physical therapy, and they shouldn’t have to make those choices,” says Paul Semelfort.

Denise Rush says a fare increase in not right.

“MetroAccess people are those who are not working, who are sick. People [who] have to choose between going to dialysis and buying food or medicine,” Rush says.

Other attendees also pointed out how this plays into the larger regional and national picture.

“Look at what’s going on right now in regards to the minimum wage. We have a movement where the minimum wage is being increased. So the rate increase [on Metro], in some degree, undermines that for the people most in need of some relief. This is already one of the most expensive areas in the country to live in,” says Gus Griffin.

Raymond Colbert argues that Metro should find other ways to raise revenue, through advertising or deals with local attractions, rather than passing the bill onto customers.

“Why is that every time they need money, [they say] ‘Let’s raise fares on the customers’? As if that’s going to draw in more customers,” he says.

Metro did see a drop in ridership shortly after the last increase went into effect in the summer of 2012, with customers upset over the hikes.

The debate comes as Congress has cut the transit benefits for federal employees from $245 to $130 per month while increasing the parking benefits. Both Metro and AAA Mid-Atlantic are concerned the move will drive people back into their cars and clog already-congested interstates such as I-270, 66, 95 and the Capital Beltway. Federal employees make up more than half of the Metro ridership, so fare increases on top of the cuts in benefits could mean trouble.

Metro’s board of directors could make a final decision on whether to accept the fare increases or reduce them at its meeting in March. If approved, the fare hikes would take effect July 1.

Customers have several more chances to testify about the fare increases:

  • Thursday, Jan. 30
    Springfield Hilton
    6550 Loisdale Rd., Springfield, Va.
    Franconia-Springfield Metro (Blue Line) – 1.2 miles
  • Monday, Feb. 3
    Mathews Memorial Baptist Church
    2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, Washington, D.C.
    Anacostia Station (Green Line) – 0.3 miles
  • Tuesday, Feb. 4
    County Executive Office Building, Cafeteria
    101 Monroe Street, Rockville, Md. (entrance on Jefferson Street)
    Rockville Station (Red Line) – 0.2 mile
  • Wednesday, Feb. 5
    Central Library
    1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, Va.
    Ballston Station (Orange Line) – ¼ mile
  • Thursday, Feb. 6
    Jackson Graham Building (Metro Headquarters)
    600 Fifth Street NW, Washington, D.C.
    Gallery Place-Chinatown Station (Red, Green, Yellow Lines)

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Metro General Manager Richard Sarles

Many long-anticipated changes are coming to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Streetcars are expected to begin service on H Street NE and the Silver Line is slated to start running to Reston and Tyson’s Corner. New fare cards and rail cars are also in the works systemwide. But many old problems and concerns about on-time performance, maintenance and safety remain. Kojo and WAMU 88.5 reporter Martin DiCaro talk with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles about where the system is headed.


Richard Sarles

General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

Martin Di Caro

Transportation Reporter, WAMU

Related Links

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles explains why WMATA doesn’t use the transportation industry’s standard for measuring on-time performance. Sarles said WMATA compares measurements against their own internal numbers, rather than industry numbers, to check improvement. “The standard we use was here before I got here,” Sarles said.

A primer on Metro’s proposed fare and fee increases

Metro has proposed increases in its rail, bus and parking fees and invited the public to comment.

Metro has proposed increases in its rail, bus and parking fees and invited the public to comment. (Robert Thomson – Washington Post )

Starting Wednesday night, Metro will begin a set of six public hearings on its proposed fare and fee increases, which would take effect around July 1 if given final approval by the Metro board.

On Monday, I hope to have Metro General Manager Richard Sarles as the guest on myonline chat to discuss the fare proposals, the Metro budget and the long-range prospects for service improvements. You can submit questions and comments now for Monday’s discussion.

But for those considering attending one of the hearings, here are the basics of the Metro revenue proposals.

Operating budget
The transit authority budget is divided into operating and capital programs. The operating portion will cover the expenses for fiscal 2015, which starts July 1. Metro revenue comes from two main sources: the local governments that support Metro and the riders. The local governments account for 45 percent of the revenue, and the riders pay about 52 percent. The proposed operating budget is $1.76 billion.

To balance it, Metro’s leaders hope to get $44 million more from the local governments and about $30 million more from the riders, through the fare and fee increases.

The Metro board can adjust the rail, bus and parking charges to reach its revenue target, but it can’t approve charges that are higher than those it advertised for these public hearings. Otherwise, it would have to hold another round of hearings.

Metrorail. The average increase in the rail fare could be as much as 4 percent. The peak boarding charge could go from $2.10 to $2.20. The off-peak boarding charge could go from $1.70 to $1.75. The boarding charge is good for a three-mile trip. Beyond that, Metro adds charges based on distance traveled. The maximum peak fare could rise by a quarter to $6. The maximum off-peak fare could rise 15 cents to $3.65.

Riders will recall that some off-peak fares increased far more than the average when Metro raised the charges two years ago. Because of the complex way Metro calculates fares, some of those off-peak boosts amounted to 60 percent changes in certain station-to-station fares. In this proposed budget, Metro puts a cap of 15 percent on any station-to-station increase in the off-peak fare.

Rail passes. The cost of a one-day, unlimited rail pass could rise from $14 to $14.50. Other types of passes could rise to these levels: Seven-day short trip pass, $36.50; seven-day fast pass, $59.75; 28-day fast pass, $239. The Metro staff has proposed creating a one-day pass for visiting conventioneers, which would cost $10. This pass would not be available to the general public.

Metrobus. Several different proposals would affect bus fares. For riders using SmarTrip cards, the regular fare could increase by as much as 25 cents, to $1.85.
The express bus fare could go up by 35 cents, to $4. The fare for the airport buses could rise by a dollar, to $7.

There are two proposals that could affect bus riders who pay cash. Sarles proposed eliminating the cash surcharge. Metro imposed the surcharge several years ago to create an incentive for switching from cash payments to the plastic SmarTrip cards. But the transit agency staff says that removing the surcharge now wouldn’t have much impact on SmarTrip use, because riders now have other incentives to use the cards, including the ability to make transfers with them and to load them with seven-day bus passes.

An alternative proposal would keep the surcharge. Under this scenario, the regular fare with cash could rise by 20 cents to $2, and the express fare with cash would rise by as much as 50 cents, to $4.50.

Parking. The cost of parking at the lots and garages operated by Metro could increase by 25 cents. Prince George’s County has requested an additional increase of 50 cents to park at the Metro lots and garages in the county. That additional money could be used in several ways: For payment of current debt service that is financing construction of Metro parking in the county, for maintenance and rehabilitation of parking facilities, or for payment of debt service to finance construction of new Metro parking in the county.

Another fee proposal focuses on the Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center parking facilities, the nearest Metro parking to FedEx Field. The rate for parking during stadium events is now $25, but the Metro staff says that leaves the space under-utilized. Since the space is farther away from the stadium entrances than other parking fields and Metro doesn’t allow tailgating, the fee isn’t competitive. So the proposal would cut the charge to $15 during stadium events.

Capital budget
The other major portion of the budget pays for equipment and for the long-range rebuilding program. The proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $1.137 billion.

Metro officials expect that federal money will account for $487.5 million of that sum. About $522 million will come from state and local governments, and the remainder from other sources of financing. It doesn’t come from rider fares or parking fees, but the public still can comment on this part of the budget, which includes the weekend rebuilding program.

Hearing schedule
Each public hearing will be preceded by an informal information session at 6 p.m. This is a chance to talk with Metro officials about any transit topic, whether or not it’s part of the fare-increase agenda. The formal public hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m. This is the chance to offer testimony on the proposed budget and the fare increases.

Dates and locations:

Wednesday: Greenbelt Marriott, 6400 Ivy Lane, Greenbelt. A free shuttle will operate to and from the Greenbelt station.

Thursday: Hilton Springfield, 6550 Loisdale Rd., Springfield. A free shuttle will operate to Franconia-Springfield station after 7:30 p.m.

Monday: Matthews Memorial Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE in the District.

Tuesday: Montgomery County Executive Office Building cafeteria, 101 Monroe St., Rockville.

Wednesday, Feb. 5: Arlington Central Library, 1015 North Quincy St., Arlington.

Thursday, Feb. 6: Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW in the District.