Metro is in a poor economic state, and it seems that Washington’s commuters are about to bail it out. The transit agency currently predicts a budget deficit of $124 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Rising pension costs and increased expenses associated with the new Silver Line to Dulles International Airport explain some of the shortfall.
On Thursday, Metro’s finance committee presented its preliminary proposals to close half of the budget gap through fare increases. Greater Greater Washington has the breakdown on Metro’s various proposals.
The proposal that would generate the most revenue is an increase in rail fares. One suggestion is to increase peak fares to account for inflation, effectively a 10 cent increase on the base fare and further increases based on distance traveled, and to raise off-peak fares by 50 percent (they would then be 75 percent of the peak fare), a change that would raise $57 million. The other suggestion was to increase off-peak fares to 90 percent of the peak fare, and leave the peak fare as is. This would raise $48 million, but some committee members voiced concerns that this second proposal would not encourage off-peak travel, increasing the strain on the system during peak times.
The proposals also include an increase in the Smartrip bus fare to $1.60 and the regular bus fare to $2, and an increase in the price of reserving a parking spot in Metro’s high-demand lots.
Metro is certainly due for a fare increase, regardless of the exact details of it. Kytja Weir of the Washington Examiner noted last week, ”The transit agency’s current policy calls for fare increases every two years, even without a budget gap. That means that, after fare increases in July 2010, another round is due.”
The most abrupt change proposed is the creation of a two-zone fare system. Pictured at left, the system would be incredibly simple: all trips within the inner zone would cost $3 while traveling between the zones would cost $6. While many trips would be more expensive under this proposal, time- and distance-based fares would be a thing of the past. Committee members from Arlington unsurprisingly opposed an idea that increase the cost of tourists and businesspeople to travel between Arlington and the District itself.
Metro’s General Manager will announce the final budget plan in January. After a few months of public hearings next spring, final approval of a fare increase would likely happen in June.
Catching a cab may get more expensive as well
In vehicular news, cab rates are also likely to increase, though there is much more uncertainty about when and by how much. Last week, a D.C. Taxicab Commission meeting to consider a taxi driver’s proposal to increase rates sent the local Twitter-sphere into freak-out mode. The furor started when the Examiner strongly suggested that taxi fares would nearly double. While a proposal to consider increasing the per-mile rate from $1.50 to $2.75 was considered at a hearing Tuesday, it also included reductions in various surcharges that would translate to an actual fare increase of much less than 100 percent.
PEOPLE: Taxi fares are not likely to double. A cab driver has petitioned Taxi Commission for hike, and they are obligated to hold hearing. That does not mean the Commission is going to approve the hike. Yes, it is likely there will be a modest hike, but not a doubling. And the timeline for any rate hike, and whether that will be accompanied by new service mandates (credit cards, hybrids, etc.), is uncertain. SO CHILL THE FLIP OUT.
During the Tuesday hearing, Commission chair Ron Linton said that he plans to decide on the commission’s next step by its regular December meeting on the 13th.
In more pleasant transportation news, Jet Blue will soon bring more of its cheap fares to National Airport. The carrier reportedly paid $40 million for eight landing and take off slot pairs, a transaction that will double its current capacity at the airport.
Map: WMATA via Greater Greater Washington