- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Metro Board yesterday voted to raise rail and bus fares, as well as parking rates, for the second time in two years, to close a $23.4 million shortfall in the fiscal 2005 budget.

Starting June 27, base subway fares go up 15 cents to $1.35, with the maximum rush-hour fare increasing 30 cents to $3.90. Local buses would cost $1.25, a nickel more, with express routes rising to $3, up 50 cents.

Daily parking rates will go up 75 cents, while monthly reserved spaces at Metrorail stations will increase from $35 to $45.

The parking increases follow a highly publicized scandal in which Metro reported losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash receipts from its parking lots and garages.

An internal audit said cashiers employed by parking contractor Penn Parking stole $500,000 to $1 million a year from cash payments made at parking lots and garages. The company accused Metro parking officials of incompetence, blaming the losses on mismanagement and faulty equipment.

Metro’s operating budget passed by a 4-2 vote at yesterday’s weekly board meeting, with D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and Arlington County board member Christopher Zimmerman opposing it. Both Mr. Graham and Mr. Zimmerman objected to raising fares for bus riders, most of whom are D.C. residents.

“I am opposed to increasing fares for those least able to afford it,” said Mr. Graham. “Yes, we’ve whittled it down to a nickel. But we could have gotten [necessary funds] another way, without burdening bus riders.”

Gladys W. Mack, board second vice chairman, said she had wanted to keep the bus fares the same. The $11 cost of weekly bus passes will not go up, which she says will “ameliorate” the daily base increase.

Board Vice Chairman Dana Kauffman, a Democrat who also serves on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said although the system is “applying pain” to its ridership with the raised fares, bus riders would have had to pay substantially more if Metro officials had not restructured the budget. Earlier drafts of the proposal raised the bus rate as much as 15 cents.

“I hope our riders recognize that we would not consider raising fares without having first taken a machete to our own budget,” Mr. Kauffman said.

Fees for MetroAccess, the federally mandated transportation service for the disabled, will go up to $4 for travel beyond three-fourths of a mile from a Metrorail station or bus route. The base fare will increase by 10 cents to $2.50, but a rider’s companion will be allowed to ride trains and buses for free.

Peak-rate fares will be charged between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The increases, approved June 10 by the budget committee, were finalized by the full board as part of the agency’s operating budget.

The board also approved beginning weekday Metrorail service 30 minutes earlier, at 5 a.m. The new opening time will go into effect Sept. 27.

Metro raised fares last June for the first time since 1995, with the base fare for rail and bus travel going from $1.10 to $1.20. Maximum rail fare increased from $3.25 to $3.60, and parking rates increased 75 cents.

Metro, which faces an estimated $23.4 million budget shortfall, expects the increases to generate $29.2 million.

Metro officials say the surplus will help pay for services and reduce subsidies paid by jurisdictions served by Metro, but they expect to lose about 14,000 rail and 3,200 bus riders because of the increased fares.

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