Metro to Raise Fares or Cut Service to Close Budget Gap

WMATA to Hold 6 Hearings for Input on Best Plan to Ease $189 Million Shortfall


The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority faces a $189 million budget gap for fiscal year 2011, leaving the agency’s board of directors looking to cut services; raise all fares for bus, rail, parking and bike storage next year or do a combination of both.


The board submitted three proposals to the Metro Riders Advisory Council, outlining possible fare increases. Some require a vast reduction of bus and rail services in order to be financially viable. WMATA plans to hold six public hearings to gain rider input on the plans. (See below.)
The most modest of the three proposals calls for an increase in peak rail fare to $1.90 from $1.65, and would raise off-peak fares to $1.55 for rail and $1.50 for bus riders with a SmartTrip card — $1.60 for commuters paying in cash.
That plan would save the agency an estimated $94 million, according to a resolution WMATA distributed at a Riders’ Advisory Council meeting.  
The proposal aiming to avoid service cuts altogether presents the most drastic set of increases, raising peak rail fare to $2 and regular fare to $1.65. Under this proposal, bus fare would rise to $1.60 for SmartTrip holders and $1.70 for commuters paying with cash. This proposal would eliminate service cuts and save the agency $178 million — but would cost the most for daily commuters.
All three proposals call for doubling the $2.50 one-way fare for MetroAccess, a door-to-door transit service for the disabled. Riders in that system whose commute begins or ends more than three quarters of a mile from the nearest bus stop, or one and a half miles from the nearest rail stop, are required to pay supplemental fares between $1 and $4 under the current fare structure.
The three plans would raise MetroAccess supplemental fares to five times their current rate — between $5 and $20 depending on the distance required for each rider.
The proposals also look to increase yearly bike storage fees from $70 to $200 and raising the Dulles and BWI airport shuttle fare from $3.10 to $6. Two of the three proposals suggest raising fare for elderly and disabled riders aboard express busses from 60 cents to $2.
Despite the possibility for drastic fare increases, the Metro Riders Advisory Council said the public will likely favor them over service cuts in the already overburdened transit system.
“Obviously they’re both painful,” said David Alpert, vice chair of the council’s Washington, D.C. jurisdiction. “Increases are tough for people without a lot of money.”
Possible service cuts the board outlined in the proposals could include eliminating some bus lines, extending wait times between trains, closing some rail stations on weekends and beginning rail service later in the morning. 
“We need to make sure access is preserved,” Alpert said.
Metro officials cite lower-than-expected ridership numbers and a general increase in expenses as key contributors to the impending budget crisis for fiscal year 2011.
Riders can offer input on which plans might work best to offset the budget gap at six public hearings between March 24 and April 1. Each hearing begins at 7 p.m., with an open house at 6:30 p.m.
Monday, March 22
Oakton High School Lecture Hall
2900 Sutton Road
Vienna, VA
Wednesday, March 24
St. Francis Xavier Church, Bailey Room
2800 Pennsylvania Ave.  S.E.
Washington, DC
Monday, March 29
Mount Calvary Baptist Church
5120 Whitfield Chapel Road
Lanham, MD
Wednesday, March 31
Arlington County Board Room, Thirdd Floor
2100 Clarendon Blvd.
Arlington, VA
Thursday, April 1
All Souls Unitarian Church, Pierce Hall
1500 Harvard St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Thursday, April 1
Montgomery County Executive Office Building, Cafeteria
101 Monroe St. (entrance on Jefferson Street)
Rockville, MD