- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

Metro board members yesterday promised not to rush into a fare increase, saying there might be ways to trim additional fat from the transit agency’s operations.

Metro’s management presented a draft budget to the board that includes a complex fare increase of as much as $2.10 for certain trips. The board is expected to spend much of the next half-year revising it before a final version is adopted.

Metro’s fiscal year begins July 1.

The proposed fare increase would vary according to the time of day, method of payment and stations used and is aimed at helping to close a $116 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

The new fare structure is also designed to encourage the use of SmarTrip electronic fare cards, which cost Metro less and are more efficient than paper fare cards, and to ease crowding by encouraging some commuters to take their trips at off-peak periods rather than during rush hour.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who is a Metro board member, said he would not support any increase until the board looks at every possibility for savings.

He suggested that the board consider eliminating more administration jobs on top of the 34 vacant ones already cut under the draft budget and forgoing pay raises for nonunion employees, who would see a 5 percent raise under the proposal.

Speaking as a council member, Mr. Graham said he would be willing to consider increased subsidies to Metro from the District. The Virginia and Maryland jurisdictions that Metro serves also contribute to its budget.

Besides raising fares, the draft budget also would get rid of 10 buses — nine in Virginia and one in the District — that Metro says cost too much and serve too few riders.

Christopher Zimmerman, a board member from Arlington, questioned the criteria that Metro staff used to judge the efficiency of the bus routes.

“My view is a fare increase should be the next-to-last thing that we consider. The last thing we consider should be reducing the service levels,” he said. “This region needs more public transit, not less.”

News of the proposed increase angered many subway riders yesterday.

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

For construction engineer Noureldaim Abdelwahab, driving is not an option. He takes Metro several times a day because he works at two job sites — one downtown near Farragut West and another in Bethesda.

The District is too congested and parking there is too scarce for him to make the trips by car, he said.

“I believe it’s not right to raise it in this day,” Mr. Abdelwahab, 45, said. “Everything is going up — the gasoline, the cost of living.”

Jack Corbett, director of the advocacy group MetroRiders.Org, said he was pleased that the board seemed to be taking a careful approach.

Mr. Corbett took issue with the size of the proposed increase, but applauded Metro’s efforts to encourage people to ride at off-peak hours and to use SmarTrip cards.

The proposed fare changes are much steeper for riders paying with paper fare cards than the plastic, rechargeable SmarTrip. SmarTrip cards are quickly scanned, unlike paper cards, which must be inserted into a reader that then spits them back out, a process that can create backups as passengers enter and exit.

The disadvantage of SmarTrip cards is that they require riders to shell out an initial $10, which includes $5 for the card itself and a $5 credit.

For Metro, however, SmarTrip cards are cheaper because they eliminate printing and equipment costs associated with paper cards, said spokesman Steven Taubenkibel. There also are fewer cash transactions involved because riders can load them with more money.

“Every penny that we save in this way is a smaller fare increase that we have to pass along to our customers,” Scott Kubly, a Metro business strategist, told board members.

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