- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Metro riders are being encouraged to accept the necessity of a considerable fare increase, the routine fix of the local bureaucracy that sometimes functions in mysterious ways.

One member of the Metro Board of Directors calls this latest act of fleecing a “smorgasbord of pain,” which is another way of saying you either pay up or hit the road.

This is not exactly the method to encourage more transit riders and fewer motorists on the roadways — no small factor in a region whose traffic is among the worst in the nation.

This is a region that lives by the rush hour, and dies by it, too.

Ours is a rush hour of mixed-up traffic patterns, with vehicles moving hither and yon to employment centers littered in the city and around the Beltway. There are no easy solutions to the traffic madness. It just is.

More roadways beget more motorists and longer commutes. More high-occupancy-vehicle lanes lead to an inequitable distribution of your tax money. You, the solo driver, pay for the HOV lane, but you are denied its use at certain times. This somehow is determined to be an inducement to commute with passengers, regardless of a person’s unique circumstances.

Metrorail, in particular, has existed as an underutilized entity often because of its unpersuasive appeals to the public. Metro sometimes greets its passengers with the following: “Do you feel lucky today?”

Metro seemingly lives by the repair, the unforeseen weather event and the interminable delay that causes the harried to roll their eyes and gnash their teeth.

Frustration rises after the innocent have parked their vehicles in an overpriced lot and fiddled with the fare machines, sticking one flawed dollar bill after another into the contraption with the hope that one will be accepted.

The board members, alas, are looking to generate an additional $35 million in revenue, sparing no one — from bus and rail riders to those who use the subway parking facilities.

The move is intended to ease projected shortfalls the next few years, assuming the board’s passenger projections are accurate.

There is a tipping point in the undertaking, made by each person who weighs the daily expenditure of using Metro against the pain of being in stop-and-go traffic.

The proposed rush-hour subway fare of $4.05 is apt to be a significant bill to those required to pay the highest rate two times a day, along with parking charges, five days a week. It all adds up.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham was the only board member to vote against the proposal, citing the monetary limitations of the poor, who depend on mass transportation to take them where they need to be. He understands the tipping point perfectly well.

At a certain point in the board’s fare-increase dance, passengers pursue other means to save a dollar. Subway fare becomes a luxury expense to the poor and working class.

In an area choking on exhaust fumes, board members ought to be exploring ways to be more inviting to the public instead of confirming that it is business as usual. They ought to be looking to increase Metro’s daily haul of 1.3 million passengers. They ought to be reaching out to all those motorists stuck along Interstate 66 as half-empty trains whiz past.

Rate increases, no doubt, are part of any business operation, understandable to a degree. Metro’s proposal, however, comes as a typically bureaucratic response to resolve a problem long in the making.

The board members might as well be saying, “We have been presiding over this problem. Now we are passing it off to the public in dramatic fashion.”

Public hearings are scheduled next month, when complaints are certain to be voiced amid pleas to understand the economics of it all.

If the proposal is put into motion and the rate increases go into effect this summer, complaints are liable to turn to action, in one-time riders seeking transportation alternatives to save the drain on their budgets.

Metro’s board members are hardly the only ones who must consider a shortfall. Even the mortgage-poor element of the middle-class must consider incremental hits to their monthly budgets.

This is a “smorgasbord of pain,” all right.

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