- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

Metro officials are proposing a second increase in rail and bus fares in as many years, in hopes of cutting almost $47 million from its fiscal 2005 budget and wiping out a deficit of up to $36 million.

Transit system officials are looking to cut 5 percent, or $46.7 million, from the $933.8 million budget for fiscal 2005, which starts in July. They also proposed four options for raising fares and parking fees to erase a deficit of $28.8 million to $36 million, depending on the subsidies provided by local jurisdictions.

“We’ve got some tough choices ahead,” said Gladys W. Mack, second vice chairman of the board.

Under the proposals, peak-hour base rail fares increase 15 cents to 30 cents, and off-peak base fares would rise 5 cents to 20 cents. Bus fares would rise 5 cents to $1.25, daily parking would go up 25 cents to $1, and the monthly parking spot reservation fees would rise by $10. Metrorail mileage charges would see increases from 3 cents to 21 cents.

Last year, Metro increased fares for the first time in eight years. The base fare for rail and bus travel rose from $1.10 to $1.20. Parking rates increased 75 cents to $3 a day at most lots. Maximum rail fare went from $3.25 to $3.60. Monthly parking spot reservations increased by $30, to $95. One-day rail passes went up from $5 to $6, and weekly passes rose from $25 to $30.

Officials yesterday cited the success of other regional transit agencies that increased fares, such as the Fairfax Connector and MARC (Maryland Rail Commuter Service). However, they say fare increases could cause Metrobus and Metrorail to lose thousands of riders daily.

Board member and D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said the loss of Metrobus ridership concerns him more than losing Metrorail riders.

“The people who ride Metrorail could just go to their cars. I don’t know what the Metrobus riders would do.”

Officials also recommended a $1 surcharge for commuters who pay cash for parking to encourage riders to use Smart Trip cards. Disabled riders who use MetroAccess could see increases from 10 cents to 40 cents.

Yesterday, the Metro Budget Committee gave preliminary approval to moving with an increase in advertising in train tunnels, on buses and in subway cars.

Officials hope to have soundless TV commercials in train tunnels by September.

“[The screens] will be a good vehicle for communicating with [riders],” said Leona Agouridis, Metro’s assistant general manager for communications. Miss Agouridis said riders would be able to receive audio for the monitors through the frequencies from Walkmen.

By next spring, video monitors could be showing ads and other programs on some trains and buses. Officials predict that the ads will generate millions in revenue for Metro.

Automated teller machines also could be installed in 24 stations, Miss Agouridis said.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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