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Metro increases proposed fare hike

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Metro riders brace yourselves: the proposed fare increases announced earlier this week may actually go even higher.

On Thursday, Metro's finance committee voted to consider five more options that in some cases could double the fare hike for bus and rail. The fare increase is part of Metro's $1.7 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2015, which starts in July.

The general manager laid out his plan to raise fares.

"We have to operate and maintain the system and there should be a balance between what the jurisdictions and taxpayers contribute and the fare riders," Sarles said, calling his proposal a modest but fair increase.

Board members had ideas of their own, and voted to go higher, proposing alternatives that would increase rail fares from three to four percent, and instead of eliminating the cash surcharge for bus riders, it would increase it.

"Everything costs more. I'd rather they didn't do it. Bus is a transportation of last resort," said Jessica Weisman, while waiting for a Metro bus in downtown D.C.

What this comes down to is Metro's board members didn't want their hands tied. So they put all the options on the table. This will give them more flexibility in considering fare hikes. To compare the plans, the maximum peak fare for rail under the general manager's plan would be $5.90. The board is $6.

"I think it's a little bit ridiculous. People are spending enough as it is on the rail system," said Robert Delgado, who rides Metro from his home in Arlington.

Taking a look at bus fares, the general manager's plan eliminates the cash surcharge for riders, making the fare an even $1.75 for those who pay cash or use a SmarTrip card. One proposal from the board would increase the cash surcharge to $2 and another plan calls for it to jump to $2.10.

Muriel Bowser, a District representative on the board, voted no on both saying the general manager's plan was high enough.

"In this day and age, when people are struggling to pay for bus ridership as it is, we shouldn't be penalizing people for using cash," she said.

The higher fare proposals don't mean that is where fares will end up. The board could change them, lower not higher, based on public input. One factor could be Congress. Metro is facing budgetary risks and uncertainty with sequestration -- a cut in transit benefits and potential changes in federal funding that could hurt Metro's bottom line.

Metro's jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. will pay more too. Their contribution to the $1.1 billion capital budget jumps from a combined $200 million to about $350 million. That money may not come easy for cash strapped local governments.

“It's big. It's big on the other hand if we don't take on these big challenges that are inherent in Metro 2025, the system won't work," said Arlington Metro board member Mary Hynes.

To get governments to ante up and sell the fare hikes, Metro keeps saying riders can see the payoff: fewer broken escalators, better on time performance. Not everyone disagrees, but asking people to pay more is never an easy sell.

Any fare increase would not happen until July 1. Metro believes the general manager's proposed hike is modest enough and will not affect ridership. Two years ago when Metro raised fares, it was a much larger increase and the transit agency did see a decline.

To view the full budget and fare proposals:

Pages 59-66 detail the GM fare proposal and alternate fare proposals.

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