- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2015

Metro will not increase fares on buses or trains as part of its budget plan for the coming year, board members decided Thursday.

While fare increases were not part of an original $1.8 billion budget proposal, 5-cent and 10-cent increase options were discussed after local jurisdictions that pay financial subsidies to the transit authority balked at proposed increases in their contribution levels.

Metro has yet to adopt a budget for fiscal 2016, which begins in July for the transit agency. But Metro Board Chairman Mort Downey pledged Thursday that the transit authority would move forward with a balanced budget despite the decision not to raise fares or significantly cut bus or rail service.

“While the final budget vote will come in the spring, the Board’s action today reflects a continued commitment to further reduce administrative costs and reprogram money from non-safety programs, and signals continued support from our jurisdictional funding partners to help balance the budget and continue our standing fare and service policies,” Mr. Downey said.

During budget planning sessions, Metro officials noted that the option of raising fares on Metrorail and Metrobus would generate $22 million in revenue increases but could potentially reduce ridership annually by 2 million trips. The transit agency provided more than 345 million trips in 2013, according to Metro’s website.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who joined the Metro board this year, said he hopes fares will remain static during his time on the board.

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“Public transportation only succeeds when it is convenient and affordable. Unfortunately Metro is becoming neither,” said Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. “Raising fares only drives people away from the system.”

Montgomery County Council members similarly opposed fare hikes, outlining their complaints in a letter sent to Metro this week.

“If WMATA fails to deliver, an additional hundreds of thousands of people in our area will be tempted to commute by car, clogging already jam-packed roads,” wrote council members Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and Tom Hucker. “Our region needs to do everything in its power to get people out of their cars, not give them good excuses to get in them.”

A handful of small proposals that could affect other fares, and the issue of fees remain on the table and will be subject to public hearings. Among the proposals are a $1 increase in the cost to park at the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station, an extension of the hours that Metro collects parking fees at its parking lots, and an elimination of the TransitLink Card paper fare card.

The proposal also includes a $5 million reduction in administrative costs through the elimination of 50 “non-safety sensitive positions.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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