- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It has been four years since transit authorities last increased bus and rail fares, and before those insignificant increases, the last increase prior to those was in 1995. Tomorrow, the Metro Board will consider fare increases that on average raise fares by 45 cents. It’s a reasonable proposal.

As Metro General Manager John Catoe explained last week, inflation has increased 37 percent since 1995, fuel costs have gone up over 300 percent and the costs for employee health insurance and the like have risen at least 80 percent. Wisely, Mr. Catoe, who joined Metro in January, presented this summer a balanced budget — and that budget is not balanced on rate increases. He also trimmed a couple hundred employees off the payrolls.

What must happen next is obvious: Approve considerable fare increases to help offset current and near-term operating expenses. Four years ago, the Metro Board had the opportunity to do just that. While Metro officials did indeed raise fares, the 9 percent increase in 2003 was low and short-sighted. Other cities at time were looking forward — San Francisco rail implemented a 25 percent increase; Maryland Transit Administration, 18.5 percent; Pittsburgh, 14 percent; and BART, 13.6 percent.

Metro’s board has nine regions to answer to, and the members of each of those regions are more inclined to vote “yes” to spending and access than they are to fare increases. Metro is there when sports fans need it, and when events on the Mall dictate longer hours or more frequent runs.

Metro has lost time and money, so the board needs to move with all deliberate speed. Approve the fare-increase package, schedule public hearings around the region and set a firm date to implement the fare plan. Service is seemingly becoming unreliable, but that’s because Metro pay-as-you-go proposals in recent years fell way short of what was actually needed to not only keep the trains running on time, but to simply keep them running.

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