Greater Greater Washington

A "tourist zone" might simplify Metro fares for casual riders

Metro fares are complex. There's good reason for this, but it makes navigating the rail system tough for tourists. To make things simple, WMATA might consider a simple, flat fare on paper farecards for trips in a certain zone where tourists typically travel.


Hypothetical "tourist zone." All trips inside the zone could cost $3 with a paper farecard.

As WMATA staff explained in their presentation on fare proposals, there's a tradeoff between simplicity and fairness in all fare proposals, and generally the region has chosen fairness in the past.

Metro could have a single, flat fare, but it would have to be about $2.70 per trip. This would mean that everyone who rides very long distances every day would save a bundle, while all the commuters who live just a couple stops from work and ride off-peak could see their commute costs double.

A zone system is similarly a problem, since people riding one station across a zone boundary would end up paying as much as someone crossing almost 2 whole zones. We can reduce the unfairness by creating more zones, but then the fares get more complicated. Fewer zones are simpler, but much less fair.

That's bad for regular Metro riders, but what about doing something similar for tourists? While the regular commuter probably has a SmarTrip which handles computing fares, it's a lot of work for the tourist trying to buy a paper farecard for the first time.

Since tourists are already paying for hotels, meals and more, an extra dollar or two on the fare might be less important than making the system easy to understand.

We can't make every paper farecard fare $2.70, since then everyone with a $5 commute would just buy these tourist fares instead. We could sell a single farecard for $5.20 (the current maximum Metrorail fare including peak-of-the-peak), but it's a little much to charge each tourist that much per trip even if they're taking the train from Smithsonian to McPherson Square.

But few tourists ride to Franconia-Springfield, anyway. What about a single tourist farecard which goes all the places tourists typically go? Metro could make it really easy to buy, with big, simple signs listing the cost, and a straightforward process on the fare machines. This "tourist fare" would take a rider anywhere in a certain zone, which Metro could prominently show on the maps.

At the last Riders' Advisory Council meeting, Michael Eichler briefed the RAC on a number of fare proposals WMATA's planning and budget offices are evaluating. Assistant General Manager Nat Bottigheimer showed the WMATA Board the same information in October. One of the ideas listed on the presentation is a flat fare for paper farecards. I suggested this "tourist zone" as a tweak to that idea.

Here's one possible zone. A lot of tourists go to the airport, and a lot to Woodley Park (a major destination for convention-goers and animal-seekers). The fare between these 2 spots maxes out at $2.90 (peak of the peak) with SmarTrip, or $3.15 with a paper farecard.


Hypothetical "tourist zone."

Any trip inside this zone costs no more than $3 (with SmarTrip), anytime. Metro could sell a "tourist card" for $3 a ride and make things a lot easier for the very high proportion of tourists who never leave this zone.

There's no incentive for SmarTrip users to buy one of these instead, since no trip costs more with SmarTrip. A few of the longer trips currently cost more with paper farecards, but that extra cost is basically the "tourist tax" today. If Metro replaced that with this system, they'd probably make more money off the tourists riding short distances and make it worthwhile to keep the "tourist fare" at a flat and easy $3 instead of a more cumbersome $3.25.

Or, perhaps there could be more zones, or different zones. For example, the zone would also work a little farther east, encompassing Potomac Ave and Stadium-Armory and not Court House and Clarendon. If we had data on how many fares are paid with paper farecards versus SmarTrip at each station, it'd be easy to determine which is a more appropriate "tourist zone."

As the planning department evaluates many different fare proposals (including some we've brought here on Greater Greater Washington just to recommend against), perhaps Eichler and the team can consider something like this. Can you come up with a better "tourist zone" system for them to evaluate?

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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This seems like a solution looking for a problem. Other than overburdened station managers at Greenbelt, College Park, Shady Grove, etc. who is complaining about this? Wouldn't a much easier solution be to better promote day passes? For $9 it's quite a deal for most tourists and takes away the whole guessing game and/or leftover fare on your card. For residents it has the great benefit of not kicking in until 9:30am, keeping tourists out of the way during rush hour.

by jeff on Nov 28, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport

Why would you want to give official sanction to an implicit message that tourists need not stray outside of the central core of DC (plus near Arlington)? "Welcome to Washington, DC! Please do not go east of the Anacostia - actually, east of Eastern Market, period - or north of the Zoo."

by Dizzy on Nov 28, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

I've always thought the current system was a rather sneaky and elaborate tax on non-residents. I wonder what the average amount left on discarded or unused paper tickets is for tourists.

by longley on Nov 28, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

Both jeff and dizzy are on point here. Investing in large signs promoting day passes may be a better investment.

by cmc on Nov 28, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

Metro fares are complex. There's good reason for this, but it makes navigating the rail system tough for tourists.

I don't think that's true. The 'good reasons' are policy directives about time-based and distance-based fares, both of which could be accomplished with a system that's far less complex (for all users, not just tourists) than what we have now.

Why focus this on tourists? Why not try to apply these principles to all trips? Doing so would require addressing the fare system as a whole.

by Alex B. on Nov 28, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

We should fleece tourists for as much as we can to support Metro. We don't have a dedicated Congressional funding source. Use it as a tourist tax. Jack up the rates for paper farecards. Create a 3 day all you can ride tourist pass.

This is a commuter rail system, not a tour-mobile on tracks.

by Redline SOS on Nov 28, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

I think the current "Peak of the Peak" fare where Metro charges an extra 20 cents during Rush Hour period is ridiculous and makes the fare system to complex. It is unfair that commuters have to pay more to travel during these periods.

Commuter Rail VRE fare is determined by the zones. The future you travel, the higher the fare. They have 8 Zones.

by Davin Peterson on Nov 28, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

Metro fares are complex.

True.

There's good reason for this

Not really, just the way it's gone.

it makes navigating the rail system tough for tourists.

True.

To make things simple, WMATA might consider a simple, flat fare on paper farecards for trips in a certain zone where tourists typically travel.

Wait what? To make a complex system of too many fares more simple, you have to introduce another fare with more rules?

[Phrase removed for violating the comment policy.].

by Jasper on Nov 28, 2011 1:10 pm • linkreport

There's almost never a post on this site that doesn't involve suggesting that other people should pay more for something.

by Theo16 on Nov 28, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

The all-day pass already does this kind of thing in a manner that's cheaper than this. Maybe it needs to be marketed better. I do agree that package rates (including for sports events etc.) need to be considered, because round trip fares for groups get real expensive, and it becomes cheaper to drive.

by Ricahrd Layman on Nov 28, 2011 1:35 pm • linkreport

I'd add Cleveland Park & Brookland. A lot of in-the-know tourists get off at Cleveland Park so they have a downhill walk to the zoo, rather than the uphill walk to Woodley Park, and there are a lot of Catholic tourists who go to visit the Basilica. Move the zone border a hair to the north and this is a great plan.

by Will on Nov 28, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

Or we could go to an all electronic card system. Singapore's trains use it to great effect. You pay a dollar deposit for one of their "smart" cards, which is dispensed from a machine. You put money onto the card and then when you're done, the machine gives you back your deposit and any leftover change. It was a plain white electronic card -- no fancy imprints.

And this was 8 years ago so it's not cutting edge technology.

by lou on Nov 28, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

I just think they need to reform/better promote the all-day passes. The general advice given to tourists on travel websites and elsewhere is to just put $5-10 on a farecard at a time and refill as needed (and keep change on you to use the exit fare machines). There's a lot of reluctance to use the passes because of the perceived complications:

Option A. One-day pass good for unlimited travel weekends, some federal holidays, and after 9:30AM on weekdays. $9

Best deal for most tourists who plan to be taking Metro a lot but not heavily promoted. For tourists who are staying 4-5 days, the other options look (at first) to be more economical.

Option B. Seven-day pass good for all non-rush trips, and good for up to $3.25 in fare on non-rush periods. $32.50

I mean, that's ridiculous. What tourist is going to bother to figure out all those rules?

Option C. Seven-day fast pass good for unlimited travel. $47

Here we have a pass that would benefit commuters who take $5 trips every day and also take Metro on off-peak trips. But there's not much benefit to tourists who are unlikely to be making that many back-and-forth high-dollar trips over a seven day period.

by Adam L on Nov 28, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

I like a better-promoted day pass instead.

While I have a personal affinity for complicated technical solutions to complicated real-world problems, I think the failure of the peak-of-the-peak to really do what it was supposed to do shows a sort of gulf between technically-minded transit enthusiasts and the riding public.

As we already see e.g. with Will's comment, I think it'd be very hard to constrain the size of a tourist zone. Either one comes up with bright-line metrics ahead of time to determine which stations are included and which aren't (e.g. paper farecard to Smartrip ratio) or all the individual neighborhood boosters will start agitating for their station to be included. And judging by the discussion that went on regarding station names, I think WMATA board members would be more inclined than not to support them. Why not King Street? Bethesda? Silver Spring? And then PG county would complain about not having any tourist-zone stops.

by thm on Nov 28, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman is right --- already a one-day pass that addresses the "problem". Only modification would be offer a "all-hours" one-day preminum pass so one could board during rush hour mornings. Then again if this is aimed at tourists I don't think many museums are open that early.

by Some Ideas on Nov 28, 2011 3:16 pm • linkreport

I'm imagining huge backups when groups of tourists arrive at a station outside the "tourist zone" and can't get through the faregates to exit the system. Will they then have to load money onto each card at the exitfare machine? Or will they have to ride back to a tourist zone station and buy new farecards outside the system? With the current system people are stymied BEFORE they get into the system, out where there are lots of fare machines that take credit cards.

by Bill on Nov 28, 2011 3:41 pm • linkreport

@Bill

What makes it worse is that if a tourist got on at Metro Center (or someplace in the middle of the zone) they could easily ride outside of the zone with three dollars and a normal fare media, instead of this tourist card.

The other big problem with this idea is that you're talking about a three dollar, single ride farecard. Which means that any tourist making multiple trips would need multiple farecards.

I just don't see this as a workable solution. Passes would be the answer. They simplify the right things for tourists: Pay X and get unlimited rides for a span of Y. Fundamentally, this zone idea is trying to simplify the wrong thing.

by Alex B. on Nov 28, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

lou is right.

Forget making the fare system even more complicated, which is what you propose.

Make it easier to use.

Let me have access to a smart card so the math is all done for them. And let them get a refund at the end of the day, or, do like London, institute a cap.

The tourists wasting 15 minutes at the stations are trying to do the math, deciding where theyre going, when theyre going, if theyre walking for a-b etc etc.

Toss all that. Let them tap and go, no math needed.

by JJJJJ on Nov 28, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

I like the concept but not the implementation. It introduces needless complexity, as already described, and doesn't improve much. My implementation:

1) Paper fares between any of the given stations would be $3. No special cards, no special fares. Beyond the given stations, a floor of $3 would be in effect for paper cards. Smart Trip fares would remain the same.
2) Market the day passes.

Basically, better utilize the payment systems we already have; don't make the system more complicated and call it a simplification.

by OctaviusIII on Nov 28, 2011 5:08 pm • linkreport

Or DC could just go to a flat-rate with monthly passes like EVERY OTHER CITY IN THE COUNTRY. Then it's cheaper and easier for everyone...

by Laura on Nov 28, 2011 9:00 pm • linkreport

Things that make you go hmmmmmm. The New Albert Tourist Pass would take people to some stations in every part of the city, except East of the River.

by Trulee Pist on Nov 28, 2011 10:20 pm • linkreport

I'm with Dizzy and Trulee Pist... This plays into the theme that tourists shouldn't go East of the River.

At the end of the day, it's about weening tourist off of the paper cards. For tourists, why not provide options to purchase SmartTrip cards from vending machines at points of entry (Union Station, airports) or at places where they stay (hotels). Provide more options other than metro stations to load such as hotels and the souvenir shops.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Nov 28, 2011 10:37 pm • linkreport

Why not offer several solutions

day passes (with tourist tax)
3 day passes (with tourist tax)
weekly passes
monthly passes
yearly passes

like most of the damn world that has transit

that work on metrobus, metrorail, circulator and any other service that serves tourist areas

all on cardboard smartrip cards sold at stations but try to upsell a plastic smartrip card

souvenirs used to be sold by WMATA, I remember seeing a metrorail train set almost 20 years ago along with a bus piggy bank which I had one of. What ever happen to them.

Lastly we certainly should not be making things easier for tourist make them spend as much as possible.

by kk on Nov 29, 2011 12:29 am • linkreport

If something is created to simplify local travel for tourists, surely something can be developed that provides a system that applies to the buses (Metrobus, Circulator, and possibly, others) and, prospectively, light rail/streetcars within the overall boundary that is established.

There are plenty of tourist destinations that are not at or near Metrorail stops such as the National Cathedral, Georgetown, Marine Corps memorial, Lincoln memorial, etc.

by Lindsey Williams on Nov 29, 2011 6:33 am • linkreport

I think that there is a lot that could be done to the fare system to minimize the impact that any potential fare hike would have on everyday users. Whether it is implementing a tourist zone or improving on the day pass, I think it is extremely important or the Board to examine creative ways to generate new revenue.

One idea that Madrid implemented is an "airport supplement" fare. So in addition to the normal fare that you pay to get out to the Bajaras airport you pay an extra euro to exit at one of the 2 airport stations. I think this could easily be implemented at DCA and at Dulles once that station opens. An extra dollar isn't a deterrant to taking Metro, but instead accounts for the convenience of taking Metro to the aiport rather than driving and parking or taking some other form of shuttle service which is way overpriced.

by Dan H. on Nov 29, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

Paying $2.70 would double some fares? Where are these $1.35 trips you speak of?

by beatbox on Nov 29, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

Just do a zone system and be done with it.

by beatbox on Nov 29, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

The 9:30AM thing is a bit of a stumbling point for day passes. Sometimes, tourists like to travel in the morning, and the current system seems to "punish" that, perhaps unfairly.

I'd like to see a system that allows tourists to buy a day pass, and then pay a small upcharge (say, $2) to ride in the morning.

To do this, you'd need to be able to load money onto a card with a pass on it. This would be useful for other purposes, and would make it easier for tourists to pay for parking, or ride the bus (which I hope we'll be seeing a big push for, once the Circulator reestablishes itself on the mall).

Explaining/selling such passes would be a lot easier with touchscreen vending machines, as visitors could be guided through the process. Also, every machine should sell SmarTrip cards, and accept credit cards.

This kind of resembles the Smart Passes concept, and IMO, should be implemented if Metro actually adopts that system. The next-gen system should also allow paper RFID cards (allowing us to finally ditch the old magnetic tickets), and also allow "casual" users to pay by tapping a standardized RFID payment card or phone (a la PayPass), without having to buy any farecard at all.

by andrew on Nov 29, 2011 10:46 am • linkreport

Paper farecards days are numbered so I'm not sure how much time and effort WMATA should invest in a flat-fare tourist card. In a couple of years tourists and everyone else will have the option of using both disposable Smartrip type cards as well as debit and credit cards to pay fares directly at the faregates. In addition, the next generation of fare vending machines should have touch screen fare calculation capability which will be much less complex than reading WMATA's fare charts.

by Steve Strauss on Nov 29, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

Unregistered smart-trip cards for short visits would be great. You could even charge a deposit for them and issue a refund at the end. If you wanted, you could make the fares on these a percentage higher or 25 cents higher.

Overall, it seems like WMATA needs to upgrade the fare collection system and technology at the fare machines. I know it's not cheap, but it's a highly visible change they could make.

by Rob P. III on Nov 29, 2011 11:26 am • linkreport

What about having a tourist version of the SmarTrip card, so that you can get a card that you get with a swipe of a credit card? You simply use the card as much as you'd like, then your credit card is billed for actual usage.

To minimize fraud or usage on a lost card (and to determine when to bill for usage), the user will decide how many days the fare card is valid. (Or, the user could simply return it to a machine at any point to "cancel" it.) If the fare card is lost (or the user just wants to cancel it), the user could simply call a number and enter his credit card number to immediately cancel the fare card.

Additionally, the user could determine a dollar limit that can be charged to the card. If the limit is reached, then the user would have to re-swipe his credit card.

A deposit (for the card itself) could be added to the usage charges, but the deposit would not be charged if the fare card is returned to a receiving machine.

I think most tourists would be OK with the trade off of the simplicity (no fare calculations) over knowing exactly how much they are spending on Metro rides. (We already do this with road toll systems (like PlatePass) that keep track of our toll usage and bill us afterwards.)

If someone is truly concerned about tracking the costs, the user would be able to have the card read (at a machine) to determine the current usage charges.

by rogerwilco on Nov 29, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

This seems like a great idea, but one downside to consider is that it may discourage tourists from trying out new places or discovering new neighborhoods. In turn, this will have a negative impact on the development in those neighborhoods if they see less traffic as a result. In my own 'hood, I wish more tourists would ride to Potomac Ave! The area is already starting to transform into a bustling commercial zone, and more visitors would certainly help. As far as touristy stuff goes, we've got the Congressional Cemetery and RFK. Potomac Ave or Stadium-Armory would be the most convenient stops for these places.

by Ksenia K on Nov 30, 2011 10:46 am • linkreport

Two idea.

(1) Like another someone else posted, and like what is done in cities around the world:

- day passes (with tourist tax)
- 3 day passes (with tourist tax)
- weekly passes
- monthly passes
- yearly passes

This is good because you able to add the tourist tax AND give your daily riders a break. The monthly and yearly passes could be offered at a discount since Metro is getting the payment upfront (time value of money).

(2) Someone mentioned dispensing a smart card for a $1 deposit. I like this idea. That said, most credit cards and debits cards now-a-days can be used to wand over readers for payments (e.g. at grocery stores). If we simply want to go to plastic, allowing people to use their existing CC's or DC's makes the most sense.

by Skk on Nov 30, 2011 5:50 pm • linkreport

^^^ Ugh, next time I'll proof read my post. Sorry for the grammatical errors.

by Skk on Nov 30, 2011 5:51 pm • linkreport

It is well known that BART, the Commuter Rail system in/around San Francisco, and Metro are sister systems. BART is also distance based and uses similar trains and station lengths/ sizes.

Wheras Metro swaths DC in a grid, the unique geog. of the Bay Area has turned BART into a sort of bottle-neck to San Francisco...with a very narrow swath of rail running through Downtown and the geographically convenient inner-suburbs within The City. It is feasibly easier and less time consuming to visit just outside the core of Tourist-DC. ...also, students from the East Bay would actually visit more of San Francisco than the downtown shopping region (Union Square) if they didn't view paying an extra $1.75 to journey one or two more stations outside the core.

Day passes invoke a behavioral difference towards travel. More destinations are bound to be visited as the guilt of spending on unknown quantities of pleasure (the "worth-it" factor) are removed with said pass...even if the total fare of trips made with the pass are below its price.

Zonification indeed invokes problems..but these are easily set up with caveats that differentiate the stark zone borders with selective distance based pricing between fringe stations.

We'd love day passes for BART on over here in the SF Bay Area, but, alas, we look to WMATA with envy. How often is that stated?

by Matt Kroneberger on Nov 30, 2011 7:10 pm • linkreport

In Portland, Oregon, the transit system is FREE in the downtown core. "Fareless Square." They still charge for going to other parts of town via bus, light rail or trolley, but the innermost trips are no charge.

Considering the fantastic amounts of wealth wasted on the Intercounty Clearcut, a free metrorail is the least that the DC area could push for. If you really want people to use public transit, a free zone for the "tourist zone" would help a lot.

In Spain earlier this year, they had to shift some policies after their import of oil from Libya was suddenly stopped. Two of the shifts were lowering the speed limit on the highways and lowering the price of train tickets. Of course, Spain has a real intercity rail program but there's no technical or financial reason the US couldn't do the same.

Sadly, we will probably wait for a similar, but worse, crisis to make even tiny steps. Too little, too late.

by Mark on Dec 1, 2011 6:05 am • linkreport

Andrew -- touchscreen kiosks are incredibly incredibly slow. It's bad enough when tourists use the current fare kiosks, not knowing how they work. Adding complexity for occasional users will only increase bottlenecks.

Fareless Square would be nice, but the way the Compact works, the non-DC members would likely say that DC should pay for the cost. I did a paper years ago that tried to estimate how much it would cost, and it was many hundreds of millions of dollars.

No way that DC can pay that. And it shouldn't.

However, I figured that the cost of providing free surface transit (bus only at the time) would be about $70 million, which is achievable.

The advantage of free surface transit is that it would serve DC residents, mostly on intra-city trips. (It'd be hard figuring out how to handle the parts of trips between DC and Maryland such as the S2 or 70s buses to Silver Spring.)

You could make streetcar free too. I don't know how much extra that would cost.

The concern about fareless square just downtown is that it would mostly serve people with the ability to pay, and it's kind of unreasonable on an equity basis.

I understand the justification in terms of congestion reduction, but for the most part, that's not a substantive issue.

Plus, one thing that SF figured out, when they studied whether or not to make the MUNI system free, is that the increased demand for service would also cost significantly more to serve (more buses, ideally more transit cars, more personnel) than they would be able to handle.

Since the Metro subway system is already congested in the Central Business District during rush periods, adding demand through free transit provision can become problematic.

Portland's fareless square was also created to attract investment, including housing, downtown, and DC doesn't need a comparable kind of inducement.

When I asked my professor how fareless square was paid for (he was an adjunct, an economist from Oregon) he said, oh, through the withholding tax...

- http://www.oregon.gov/DOR/BUS/transit-excise.shtml

I figured that a similar kind of tax just in DC could generate $200 million/year, and could be used to fund transit extension (the separated blue line) and other improvements to transit in DC.

But it would generate less if the federal govt. opted out, which it would be likely to do. Federal employees are exempt both from the Oregon tax and the relatively new MTA tax in New York.

- http://www.tax.ny.gov/bus/mctmt/default.htm

I didn't try to estimate how much less a payroll tax would generate by not including federal employees, and likely employees of World Bank, IADB, OAS, and embassies would be similarly exempt.

Note that there is a repeal effort going on wrt the MTA payroll tax. The State Senate voted to repeal.

by Richard Layman on Dec 1, 2011 6:29 am • linkreport

I should have said providing free bus service in DC would cost an additional $70 million, beyond what DC pays to WMATA for Metrobus service, which is more than $30 million/year. And I don't think I calculated the cost of the Circulator. I can't remember, the paper is 4+ years old.

by Richard Layman on Dec 1, 2011 6:32 am • linkreport

S***. Yet one more thing. However, unlike SF, I didn't project any increase in demand for service, and therefore more vehicles and drivers, which would increase costs. There is plenty of capacity on some lines, and limited additional capacity on the major routes. There is no question that if surface transit were free, demand would increase, and so additional capital equipment and operating costs would have to be factored in.

by Richard Layman on Dec 1, 2011 6:34 am • linkreport

Zones or the custom unlimited concept, despite GGW's objectives, would increase ridership, simplify fares, and make using public transport fairer for ALL users, not just tourists.

by Phil on Dec 1, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

@beatbox Paying $2.70 would double some fares? Where are these $1.35 trips you speak of?

That's the minimum reduced fare with a SmarTrip card. Not sure how many trips that covers, or from what to where, but I'd bet the average rush hour commuter is paying more than that each way.

by AdaminAlexandria on Dec 1, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

What about just starting with baby steps

1 Passes that are usable on rail and buses

2 Coming up with a solution for fare media (farecard, smartrip, rfidpaper card, nfc etc)

3 Ways to generate revenue from tourist (sell crap, add surcharges to some stations)

4 Downdown the fare structure or Dumbdown the explanation of the fare structure

This could be as simple as listing all stations and a one price, then having in giant print beside the prices if your cost is $1.95 it will cost X.XX between 6-9am and X.XX between 4-6pm , $2.25 it will cost X.XX between 6-9am and X.XX between 4-6pm and so fourth. As long as there is a visible clock nearby there are no problems

by kk on Dec 1, 2011 11:50 pm • linkreport

kk -- WMATA doesn't do all the various rate structures and not provide passes to increase complexity or make it hard to ride transit.

They do it because they need the money and at this point there is a ceiling on how much money the jurisdictions are willing to provide for funding the annual operations of the transit service.

The only thing holding back simplified fares and discounted passes on a weekly or monthly basis is the amount of money the jurisdictions are willing to provide WMATA to "subsidize" operations.

Fare and other planners at WMATA are really skilled, amongst the best in the industry. They work with the constraints and parameters they have to work with, and the fare system we have is a result.

Of course, the problem within the jurisdictions is that DC and Arlington have much different interests than the other members. The difference comes down to the subway/intracity transit function of WMATA vs. the commuter railroad aspect of WMATA providing service to major job centers, mostly in DC and Arlington, but also Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Alexandria.

While both DC and Arlington are primary work destinations, at the same time both jurisdictions want to promote intra-city mobility, quality of life for residents, and congestion reduction. The other jurisdictions just want to make it easier for their residents to get to jobs in DC and Arlington/congestion reduction.

Since the payments are based in part on the number of stations present in the jurisdiction, DC pays more, even though it isn't able to fully monetize the value on nonresidents.

OTOH, the other jurisdictions can say that DC and Arlington make more property tax comparatively speaking on the office buildings. OTOH, DC and Arlington are likely to have more federal installations not paying property taxes.

by Richard Layman on Dec 2, 2011 6:35 am • linkreport

"We can reduce the unfairness by creating more zones, but then the fares get more complicated. Fewer zones are simpler, but much less fair."

Agreed that fewer zones are less fair (I live just outside the "proposed tourist zone" and wouldn't want to pay $6 for a trip, up from $2.15 currently at peak-of-the-peak) but I don't see how implementing more zones is more complicated. As it is, having a different price for EVERY trip, depending on the length, is the MOST COMPLICATED metro system I have ever experienced. Five or six zones would simplify metro!

Side note: why not increase revenue by increasing advertising? I'm so bored looking at the drab concrete all the time. There's so much prime space for it: I could use the entertainment, and metro could use the $$!

by OhNoDCMetro on Dec 6, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

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