- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

2:49 p.m.

Metro board members today are debating hefty and complex fare increases of as much as $2.10 for premium trips.

The increases — which would vary depending on time of day, method of payment and stations used — are to close a $116 million budget shortfall for the transit system, considered the second largest in the country after New York City’s.

Officials hope the new fare structure will encourage the use of SmarTrip electronic fare cards, which are cheaper for the agency to process, and ease crowding by encouraging commuters to ride during nonrush-hour periods.

Some subway riders are upset about the size of the proposed increase.

“If it goes through, I’m going to drive,” said Jo Marie Griesgraber, a Fairfax County resident who rides the Orange Line daily.

“The regional governments should just step up” and increase their subsidies, instead of making riders pay more, she said.

Ryan Legg, 29, wouldn’t object to increases.

“Hopefully, it will improve service and the conditions of the trains,” he said while catching a train at the Farragut West subway station.

The budget, including the proposed fare increases, will likely change significantly before the board adopts them in the spring. Metro’s 2008 fiscal year begins July 1.

Under the version drafted by Metro management, all rush-hour subway fares would increase. Subway riders passing through downtown during rush hour would have to pay a 35-cent surcharge.

However, the minimum off-peak fare would decrease from $1.35 to $1.25, which management hopes will entice more customers to ride during less crowded periods. Off-peak ridership has decreased recently, while rush hour has become more congested.

Metro said the average rail customer will pay about 30 cents more.

Other proposed changes include:

• An increase in rush-hour subway fares bought with paper cards, from 65 cents to $1.75.

• An increase in rush-hour subway fares bought with SmarTrip cards, from 15 to 45 cents.

• An increase in bus fares paid in cash by 75 cents.

• An increase in daily parking fees by 75 cents.

Jack Corbett, director of MetroRiders.Org, a transit riders’ advocacy group, said Metro should first try to trim waste from its operations. The agency’s overtime costs, for example, have gone from $58.2 million in fiscal 2002 to $82.7 million in 2006, he said.

The proposed budget calls for eliminating 34 now-vacant positions and recommends the subway open at 8 a.m. on weekends instead of 7 a.m. But it would give 5 percent pay increases to about 1,600 nonunion employees.

Mr. Corbett applauded the agency’s effort to encourage people to use SmarTrip cards and ride at off-peak hours.

SmarTrip cards are plastic, rechargeable cards embedded with a computer chip.

As much as $300 can be on the card, and fares are deducted when they are scanned upon entering and exiting a Metro station or bus. Officials favor them because they keep passengers moving in and out faster than the paper cards, which must be inserted into a computerized reader that then spits them back to the customer.

The SmarTrip cards are cheaper for Metro because they eliminate printing and equipment costs associated with paper cards, said spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. There are also fewer cash transactions involved because riders can load them with more money. However, to get a card, riders must pay a minimum of $10, which includes $5 for the card and a $5 credit.

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