- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

Metro riders were disgruntled yesterday about paying higher fees, especially those for reserved parking at stations, but said they had few alternatives.

“This has to be the priority, so everything else is second,” said Jennifer Chamberlain of Glenn Dale. “I don’t like it, but what can I do? I would much rather spend that money on lunches or new clothes, anything but parking.”

Commuters who regularly parked their vehicles at stations had been paying flat fees of $55 or $65. But under Metro’s rate schedule effective this week, they will pay a $35 reservation fee and a daily fee. The fee increased by 75 cents and is now $3 at most stations.

Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said yesterday that most commuters will accept the increases.

“I’ve been monitoring people’s reactions on TV, and I think most people understand and accept,” she said. “Even though [fees] went up, it’s still a great deal.”

The parking fees were part of a rate-increase package Metro officials approved to help close a $48 million shortfall in their $1.2 billion budget for fiscal 2004.

Among the increases that started Sunday was the rise in base fares, from $1.10 to $1.20, for riding buses and subways.

Cheryl Besley of Beltsville expects to spend about $30 more a month for parking and riding, an increase that has her considering alternative ways to get to work.

“I think it’s too much money,” she said yesterday at the Greenbelt station. “Money is tight. I have two kids. I’d rather put that money in my pocket.”

Lena Konah of Greenbelt also said Metro charges too much for parking.

“It’s quite a bit of money to pay,” she said. “It’s just too much for a lot of people, especially with the economy being so bad and lots of people not having jobs.”

However, some commuters said the fee is worth the convenience of assured parking and that they will continue to pay it.

Greenbelt resident Elizabeth Gaines said she has had a permit for about five years and will continue to pay for it because it prevents the hassle of searching for a spot.

Jonathan Cykman of Elkridge, Md., says he thinks commuters will continue to purchase reserved spots because they need to get to work and have few alternatives.

“I think a lot of people will still pay for it,” he said, “but I’m sure it will affect some people’s budgets.”

Julia Eichhorst of Greenbelt had mixed feelings about the increases.

“I know that fares have to go up, but it’s a hard hit for a lot of people,” she said. “I wish they would increase it incrementally instead of just waiting and increasing it so much all at once.”

The increases came after nine public meetings and were made, in part, to help pay for extended weekend hours, Metro officials said.

Still, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 12, which represents 4,000 employees at the Department of Labor, plans to hold a rally today to ask the government to increase employees’ commuter stipends, said union President Larry Drake.

Mr. Drake said ralliers will ask Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to raise the subsidy from $65 to $100 a month, which is what the department’s managers and supervisors receive.

“This is an equity issues,” he said. “We’ve scheduled this to coincide with the Metro fare increases to highlight the injustice our workers are facing.”

Mr. Drake also said the fare increases are likely to have the biggest effects on lower-level employees.

“Their money won’t go as far,” he said.

Mr. Drake said the workers at the Department of Labor are some of the only federal employees who are not receiving $100 a month in subsidies.

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