- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

In December, CEO Richard White announced a $48 million shortfall in Metro's 2004 budget. In January, they proposed a package of fare and parking increases. Tonight and tomorrow, Metro officials will again gauge public opinion on that package during hearings in Fairfax and Montgomery counties. The increases would not take effect until July 1, the start of Metro's fiscal year and they won't come a moment too soon.

"The current economic slowdown has affected transit agencies across the country, including Metro," Mr. White said. "While operating costs have increased, bus and rail ridership has grown more slowly than in the past. Slow ridership growth due to the economic downturn, coupled with the ridership impacts and increased insurance costs attributable to September 11 have combined to create a more challenging funding situation."

The rising costs of gasoline are a factor as well, as commuters and motoring vacationers well know. The average price of one gallon of gas in the Washington area rose last week to $1.67. The cost of a one-way trip on Metrobus? $1.10. There are several other reasons why Metro must raise its fees and fares. Chief among them is the fact that, as ridership and operating expenses grew in recent years, fares stayed flat. Indeed, Metro's last fare increases were in 1995.

The proposed fare increases range from 10 cents to 40 cents on Metrobus and from 10 cents to 60 cents on Metrorail. The increases are certainly reasonable (even generous) since, for many commuters, especially those who have short or long commutes into the District along convenient Metrorail routes it's far cheaper to use Metro than to drive. It's about time that other important proposals are on the table as well: earlier A.M. service; streamlined management; increased safety and security; and better Metrobus-to-Metrorail service, among other things.

The budgets of our local governments are becoming more strained and the demands on public roads and mass transit have become more taxing. It's good to know that Metro's fares and fees are being restructured into a pay-as-you-go plan for riders instead of pressing all taxpayers to fund higher subsidies.

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