- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

As Metro General Manager John Catoe knew going into yesterday’s board hearing, no one likes a fare increase. But the case for fiscal realism is strong, and Mr. Catoe has made it persuasively.

Four years have passed since the last Metro rate increase. Inflation, skyrocketing fuel costs and large liability expenses have marched upward. There is no magical exception here. Denying that would jeopardize Metro’s already fragile financial situation.

The increases are roughly the same as annualized inflation since the last increases. Mr. Catoe envisions raising minimum rush-hour Metrorail fares between 20 and 40 cents, depending on when the increase is enacted, plus a Metrobus increase of 25 cents and a parking increase of 50 cents. If those increases take place in January, Metro fares would rise 20 or 25 cents. These proposals are lower than the original ones proposed two weeks ago, which sought 45-cent and $1 increases for Metro and parking respectively (plus the same bus increase).

As matters stand, fares only recoup about 57 percent of Metro’s operating costs. The remainder comes from regional subsidies, of which Maryland’s and Virginia’s are not dedicated. Every year, the region must worry about Metro funding. A fare increase does not solve that problem. But it certainly makes it less acute.

The process seems to have worked these last two weeks. We credit Mr. Catoe’s deft moves to trim the projected 2009 fiscal shortfall from $173 million to $109 million, which might not have happened absent signals of necessity from the board and other stakeholders.

Enhanced safety will do much to moderate future increases. A sizable bite is coming this year in connection with Metro’s recent tragic bus and train deaths. Safety measures are not simply the right thing to do to protect people’s lives. They are also fiscally important.

These are modest fare adjustments, meant to counter four years of inflation and stop the budgetary bleeding. There is no such thing as a free ride, nor an inflation-free one.

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