WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bus vs. rail. That very well could be the dilemma among Metro commuters in the wake of a vote taken last week by its board to increase fares.
Overall, rail fares will be increased by 15 percent while bus fares will cost 20 percent more and will take effect July 1. The increases, which also include a $4.50 parking toll and a few other surcharges, account for the largest rate hikes in the system’s 30-year history.
Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, who sits on Metro’s board, said that as means of making things easier on poor commuters who depend on bus service, the city has been providing Smart Cards.
“And we’ve covered a lot of people with that,” Graham said.
“I hated doing what we did and that’s why I have fought over the years to keep the bus fares low,” he continued. “However, with the city itself facing a $200 million deficit, we just didn’t have , so Metro had no choice but to raise fares.”
Metro spokesman Reggie Woodruff said the bottom line was that riders, across income levels, didn’t want a cut in services—another cost-saving alternative.
“The public definitely, by and large, did not want that, the board decided to go with the fare increases,” he said, “using as their primary guiding force the sentiments of the majority of the public.”
Woodruff added that with the exception of peak service charges —which will be instituted later in the year—most of the increases will take place this summer.
All totaled, the new rates will generate about $108.7 million, including $1.1 million that would be gleaned from increases in paratransit services for elderly and disabled commuters.
The board’s decision on the increases was part of a regional effort involving the District, Maryland and Virginia, to fill a gaping deficit in its 2011 budget. Another $30 million will be borrowed from Metro’s capital funds to provide preventive maintenance. However, board members from Virginia and Maryland prevailed in fighting off a move in the District to raise parking costs by $ 0.50.
Responding to inquiries into Metro’s financial footing, Woodruff said the fact that the system has been millions of dollars in the red in recent times, speaks to the inevitability of the decision.
“It’s been a $189 million budget gap,” he said. “We’re not receiving the revenue that we ha d received in the past based on the economy and decreased ridership, so we had that gap that we had to close. There was no way around it.”
Northeast Washington resident Regina Carter said she’s thinking about switching from rail service to get to her job downtown.
“Most of the time, I’ve been riding the rail because it’s so much faster and less bothersome,” Carter said. “But if they are increasing the fees, I might need to start thinking about riding the bus.”
A final vote on the increases is expected in late June.