DC: Metro Looks to Raise Fares, Parking Fees

Metro is planning to raise fares and parking fees in July but is considering radically changing how it charges them, transit agency officials said Thursday.

Visitors and any riders using paper farecards would pay flat rates, with $6 one-way fares to any stations outside the inner-core stops, under a preliminary plan.

Parking fees would rise by a quarter for regular spots but drop for some reserved ones.

And the difference between Metrorails peak and off-peak fares would shrink, as the agency scraps its 20-cent peak of the peak surcharge for the busiest part of the rush and charges more for non- rush-hour trips. The cheapest fare during peak hours would climb from $1.95 to $2.05.

The idea is an attempt to simplify Metros complicated fare system, while raising an estimated $60 million. But the plans are preliminary. General Manager Richard Sarles said he wants see how the trial balloon floats with the public, then present formal recommendations in January. Riders will have a chance to weigh in, then the board of directors will decide by June 30.

Even so, Metro Chief Financial Officer Carol Dillon Kissal said fare increases are inevitable.

Fare increases are coming, but they will not be as aggressive as they were a couple of years ago, she told reporters.

The transit agency is trying to close a $124 million budget gap the agency is forecasting in its more than $2 billion budget that starts July 1.

The rising costs come as the agency is suffering from what Dillon Kissal called a too rich pension system, a softening economy and rail ridership that hit a wall in fiscal 2010 and hasnt recovered. The agency also is facing $20 million in startup operating costs for the Silver Line now under construction.

Rail and bus service do not face cuts under Metros initial proposal. Riders would shoulder an estimated $60 million of the gap through higher fares, while taxpayers would bear the rest.

But the jurisdictions that make up Metros service area would have to decide whether their taxpayers would subsidize proposed initiatives that would increase bus security, increase escalator maintenance, expand the priority bus network to improve on-time performance and fight worker fatigue.

The jurisdictions can decide whether they want to make the investment, Dillon Kissal said.

But some board members already grumbled that the options, such as an increased police force, may be tough to turn down. I dont want that to be a choice. Weve got to do it, Maryland member Alvin Nichols said. I dont want that left up to individual jurisdictions.

Still, much could change in Metros calculations if Congress doesnt extend transit benefits by Jan. 1 to $240. The benefits, which are slated to drop to $125 per month, help insulate much of Metros ridership from the brunt of fare increases, such as about 120,000 federal workers for whom the government picks up the tab.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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