- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Metro Board of Directors yesterday moved toward a series of fare and parking increases that one board member described as a “smorgasbord of pain.”

Board members voted to hold public hearings on the increases, which could kick in at the end of June or early July — about one year after the last increase.

The $35 million proposal would raise base rail and local bus fares by a maximum of 15 cents to $1.35. The highest rush-hour subway fare could climb to as much as $4.05. Daily parking charges could jump by as much as $1.30. Monthly reserved spaces will increase up to $10.

“We’re taking out a smorgasbord of pain” to the public, said board Vice Chairman Dana Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County.

The agency is looking at raising fares annually, biennially or every three years to close projected shortfalls over the next few years. The board also is considering about $5 million in cuts, including running two-car trains after 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

Board members said the advertised increases and service cuts would generate more money than what is needed to close the budget shortfall, but they want options as they make final spending decisions.

The projected shortfall for fiscal 2005 shrank from $36 million to $28 million after the board voted for a 4.6 percent increase in the subsidy that Virginia, Maryland and the District pay the transit agency. Board Chairman Robert Smith of Montgomery County wanted to keep the subsidy increase at 2.6 percent, but D.C. and Virginia representatives pushed for the larger increase to cushion fare increases and service cuts.

“There’s been a battle fought, but the war is not over,” Mr. Smith said, adding that no decisions were final until the new fiscal year begins in July and that he still is looking at more cuts.

“We’re down to finding a couple million dollars,” he said.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham was the only board member to vote against the proposal, saying the increased fares would hit poor people the hardest.

“Today I am going to vote for the family that boards the bus and pays increased fares in order to get to the subway, and they’ll pay an increased fare,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.

Metro’s 1.3 million daily passengers also will be able to weigh in on plans to expand advertising in the system.

Earlier this month, Metro’s Budget Committee approved several ideas, including silent movies in train tunnels, video monitors in stations and on buses, and giant ads that would be wrapped around subway cars and buses.

The board decided yesterday to include those ideas in the public hearings for proposed fare increases after receiving complaints from people who think such advertising is inappropriate for the nation’s capital.

Public hearings are set for March 15 to 25 in all jurisdictions Metro serves.

In other action yesterday, the board authorized transit officials to move forward with plans to bring light rail to Anacostia, including buying property and rail cars, and designing and building storage and maintenance facilities.

The starter line would run from Bolling Air Force Base to Pennsylvania Avenue. Officials hope to start construction in April.

A half-dozen stops would be open by mid-2006. About 1,500 riders would use the line each day.

The light-rail project has a $45 million price tag, which will be covered by the D.C. government. However, city transportation officials yesterday listed the new service as one of its unfunded projects over the next six years.

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