- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Metro's Budget Committee yesterday voted to hold public hearings next month to discuss an increase of more than $2 a day for parking and fares during rush hour the first fare increase in eight years.
Richard A. White, general manager and chief executive officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), presented the committee with several Metrorail, Metrobus and Metro parking and fare adjustment options. The committee agreed to send the proposals to a public hearing in about six weeks after a private audit and approval of the board of directors.
"We're running out of choices right now in terms of how we're going to be able to continue our services, and without some additional revenues I think we're going to be hard-pressed to be able to continue our service levels," said Mr. White.
Metro is expected to face a budget deficit of roughly $24 million in fiscal 2004, and Mr. White has said raising fares is the only way to make up the shortfall. The deficit was $48 million, but WMATA decided to eliminate about 200 jobs that will cut that number in half, according to a spokeswoman.
Mr. White's proposal includes the possibility of maximum fares during rush hour going from $3.25 to $3.85, and parking fees rising to $3.25 from $2.25 in Montgomery County and Virginia, and to $3 from $2 in Prince George's County and the District.
Total costs for Maryland and Virginia riders who park at Metro stations and ride the rail into to the District would increase to $10.95 a day from $8.75.
Metro fares for rush-hour rides up to 7 miles would increase from $1.10 to $1.40, and rides of 7 to 10 miles would increase from $1.60 to $1.90. Any ride longer than 10 miles would cost maximum fare.
Bus fares also may be raised from $1.10 to $1.30. And monthly parking fees at Metro stations could go from $45 to $65. Changes would take place in July.
However, a number of Metro officials were wary of the potential increases.
"The double whammy for the riders who both park and ride is one that we have to be very concerned about because we don't want to drive them away from the system," said Katherine K. Hanley, Fairfax County representative.
"Do I think we'll do all these things? No I certainly do not. We'll do some of these things but not all of them," she said.
"I think we want to be careful that fare increase is our very last option," said John P. Davey, a Prince George's representative.
But board member David A. Catania, Republican at-large D.C. Council member, said the deficit is inescapable and the board faces a tough decision.
"Ultimately we'll have the choice to either raise fares somewhat or we start restricting services. Which is the greater evil?" said Mr. Catania. "Like always we're looking for other sources of revenue so that we can reduce that hardship."
Metro Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman said he sees the need for discussion, but is opposed to fare increases.
"It's the responsible thing to do to at least consider making changes to the fare structure," he said. "I am inclined to be resistant to increasing the rider's cost of transit because I don't think it's in the best interest of anyone in the region, both riders and nonriders."
There are 103 miles in the Metro rail system and about 50,000 parking spaces at stations.

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