Greater Greater Washington

WMATA would cut last commuter discount, has no pass plan

Tomorrow, the WMATA Board will approve a docket for public hearings with potential fare increases, which does not include a monthly pass proposal as the finance committee requested.

Only fare increases have to go to the public for comment, and a monthly pass could be considered a fare reduction. That means it's still possible for the board to work out the details of a pass option during meetings between now and June, when they must approve the budget.

The docket also eliminates the last discount available for riders that only take 10 trips per week, a normal commute for some people. Metro proposes raising the price of the rail fast pass to exactly 10 times the maximum rail fare.

Previously, Metro offered a few discounts for frequent riders: a 10% bonus fare for people who bought farecards of $20 or more, a weekly bus pass that cost about 8.5 trips, and the rail fast pass.

The 10% bonus fare was eliminated in 2003. The weekly bus pass discount was eliminated in 2010. Metro now charges 10 times the Smartrip fare for a pass.

For a regular commuter taking 10 trips per week which are long enough to hit the maximum fare, the rail fast pass currently offers about a 10% discount compared to 10 individual trips, as well as free trips after that. This proposal will eliminate the 10% discount and almost certainly drive customers away from using the rail fast pass.

More to follow after the Thursday board meeting.

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Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia. 


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What is the most effective thing that I as a DC citizen can do to alter the WMATA board? Between the continuing escalator debacle and the financial incompetence, we need to improve management there as soon as possible. Complain to Muriel Bowser?

by Andy on Jan 25, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

Of the people that represent you on the board, only one is elected. So complain to Muriel Bowser sounds like your best shot.

Other than that, go to public comment on thursday and complain, or to the public hearings and complain.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 25, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

Will the weekly pass really be missed? I can't imagine that many are bought.

And given that it only offers a benefit to a small slice of long-distance commuters or those who do heavy amounts of riding, why should it exist anyway? I think it's best either to have a decent pass or none at all.

by Gray on Jan 25, 2012 2:14 pm • linkreport

I use the pass and there are about 1,000 of us. I think the issue is not that there are so few, but that WMATA should create a structure so there are more of us by creating greater incentive. Part of that discussion was had around the month pass. Few folks likely know about the pass and it's not part of SmartTrip. I was invited to participate in a trial of it on SmartTrip but that fell apart and maybe that was due to some internal debate on the future of said pass.
Bottom line, people that are willing to pay up front a large amount for the use of something are generally treated to some form of incentive for doing so. It's a way of securing money in advance for the merchant/transit authority. And in the more urban sense, it can change transit commuting into true, full train use, as the pass user expands their general usage of the train - as discussed here again. This leads to the types of improvements in congestion and so forth that so much of the discussion revolves around. In other words, it serves a financial purpose to merchant and consumer but also begins to modify urban usage with a net positive for urban societies.

It shouldn't be shat upon just because you don't use it. It's an outlier at this point true, but it should be embraced and expanded upon rather than dismissed.

by Anon on Jan 25, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport

perhaps part of the elimating the pass is better metrics on revenue/ridership?

by charlie on Jan 25, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

@Charlie: probably not, it's a magnetic strip card now and they get data from that.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 25, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport

Officially, Metro told me that they provided additional technical information to the board which will be discussed tomorrow.

Unofficially, a source familiar with the proposal said that Metro said that monthly passes were too complicated to implement. The source stated that Metro took the most complicated case, providing individual monthly passes for each possible pair of stations, when stating that the proposal would be too complicated.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 25, 2012 6:04 pm • linkreport

Anon: my complaint had nothing to do with the fact that I don't use it. The problem is that it's only a good deal for a narrow slice of commuters--and in fact, it subsidizes travel for this small group, at the expense of everyone else.

It would obviously be much better to develop a better pass for everyone. What we shouldn't be doing is subsidizing a small number of people using the argument that it's better than having no passes at all.

by Gray on Jan 26, 2012 11:16 am • linkreport

Subsidizing? Really? Your argument falls apart in two ways: 1) Anyone that buys something in bulk and gets a discount is not receiving a subsidy but a discount for buying a larger amount. This is common practice and shouldn't be discouraged. As noted, this is a great way to develop transit. It should be encouraged and built upon. Because a minority does it now shouldn't suggest closing it down - it suggests continuing to develop it so still more can and will use it. Again, it provides a financial benefit for the transit agency (vendor), by locking in those charges up front - and a month is better than a week, but still.
2) By your own accounting, it's such a small minority using it. By that extension this bogus subsidy you seem to think you are paying must equate out to a fraction of a cent. If I were not participating in the pass system now, I'd still gladly thow in my 1/4 cent to help move that program forward, hopefully to monthly passes, etc.

by Anon on Jan 26, 2012 11:25 am • linkreport

You can call it whatever you want, but it's a discount for you and a very small slice of people who happen to be very long-distance or heavy users.

If subsidizing riders is such a brilliant idea that will magically transform Metro, then we should extend it to all riders, not just those who happen to live far away from where they work.

But no, I disagree that subsidies are the best answer. Instead, we should move to a more comprehensive pass that would work for far more riders, who would use it not because they're heavily subsidized but because it's convenient--and that in turn could benefit everyone.

In the meantime, maintaining a discount for a few long-distance riders (but not for anyone else) isn't that great of an idea.

by Gray on Jan 26, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

Sounds more like jealousy than an actual issue with the practice. You seem more concerned that a 'privileged few' are enjoying it. It boggles the imagination that, though you seem to regard it as a good idea, you'd like to see the current iteration sunset rather than expand.

That's the idea here isn't it? Recognize the value, then build upon it.

Instead, you seem focused on this huge savings those participating are enjoying and how you've been spending big dollars to support it. We all know that's a bogus sentiment, really, highlighted by your admission that the program be expanded. That’s my point all along. Why cancel something that has real value – build upon it.

by Anon on Jan 26, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

You seem determined to intentionally misread what I am saying.

I am not jealous of those who are able to save money with the current pass. However, this pass is nothing like what the pass should be like. Moving to a better pass would not be "expanding" the current pass.

The problem with the current pass, which you seem to interpret as jealousy, is that it only represents a discount for those with particularly long commutes. So, while you don't like this terminology, keeping the pass means that those with shorter commutes are subsidizing those with very long commutes. If you want to start a discussion of why people in the District and inner suburbs should subsidize travel by those in the outlying areas, go ahead. But don't act like this is rooted in jealousy, or that arguing for a real monthly pass is equivalent to expanding this pass program.

by Gray on Jan 26, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport

Board approved putting a 28-day unlimited pass on the docket, as well as a 28-day version of the short rail pass. Both will be migrated to Smartrip.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 26, 2012 6:20 pm • linkreport

The largest limitation to weekday use of the Metro subway is the policy by Metro to purposely limit commuter parking at Metro subway stations, with the intent to try to force commuters to switch to Metro buses to commute between home and the subway station. That just is not going to happen with the population of the Washington DC area, add we tend to have different things to do and places to go before returning home, making using the bus impractical.

Dr. Gridlock has underlined the problem for more than a decade, by listing Metro subway stations with parking a couple times a year and giving the current average time in the morning that all the unreserved parking is full. It is quite early in the rush hour period that they fill up, not helped by Metro also increasing the size of the (mostly unused) reserved monthly parking spaces, which are more expensive than paying daily.

It only took Metro 30+ years to finally build another parking garage at Glenmont, which they could have and should have done while still building the station.

by Steve on Feb 20, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

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