Greater Greater Washington

Why a flat fare is a bad idea for Metro

At last week's WMATA board meeting, new Virginia member Jim Dyke suggested that the transit agency study a flat fare. While a flat fare would certainly be simpler to understand, it's not a good policy. It would not be more equitable. Nor would it be cheap.


Photo by 35mmMonkey on Flickr.

The idea of a flat fare for Metro comes up every so often, especially compared to the current, complicated fare structure that requires looking up fares in a huge table. This idea is to create a simpler system by charging everyone the same amount to ride, as is the case in many subway systems.

For someone used to paying $4.50 each way, a flat fare like Boston's $1.70 or New York's $2.25 looks attractively cheap. But the reality is that even if Metro were to adopt a flat fare, it would not be that cheap.

Michael Perkins ran the numbers and discovered that (assuming no loss in ridership) a flat fare would need to be at least $2.90 to be revenue-neutral.

Fare's fair

That's more than any other system with a flat fare, and is significantly higher than the $1.60 off-peak and $1.95 rush hour base fares. What the flat fare really means is that people making shorter trips (often those living in the urban core) will be subsidizing those making longer trips (often those living in the suburbs). And that's simply not equitable.

If you're traveling farther, you should expect to pay more. Can you imagine if all taxis regionwide had a flat fare? Would it be fair to charge the same for a trip by taxi from Woodbridge to Rockville as for a trip from Logan Circle to 12th and K? Of course not.

Everybody else is doing it

As is often the case when subway fares are being discussed, some suggest that WMATA should move to a flat fare because most other subway systems use them. And if all subway systems and regions were the same, perhaps that argument would make some sense. But there are significant differences between our Metro and other subway systems in America.

Part of it is a technology issue. A fare structure like Metro's only works in systems with exit faregates, where a rider swipes the fare media to exit as well as to enter. Only Metro, PATCO in Philadelphia and New Jersey, the San Francisco Bay Area's BART, and Atlanta's MARTA have this technology today. It would not be cheap for systems like those in New York and Chicago to install new equipment to make variable fares possible.

Other systems also have momentum behind the flat fare. It's very difficult to build the will to allow such a change, even if the infrastructure allows it. A few years ago, MARTA installed new gates, new fare vending machines, and even got a new name for the fare system. Even though a distance-based fare is now technologically possible, Atlanta continues to use a flat fare, not necessarily because they've decided it's better policy, but out of momentum.

Metro is commuter rail and urban subway

Technology and history aren't all that separate Metro from many other systems. There's also the structure of the cities and the transit systems themselves. The older subways in the United States generally don't travel as far as the modern heavy rail systems. When all trips are shorter, it's not quite as inequitable to charge the same rate for everyone.

Metro is a hybrid between an urban subway and a suburban commuter rail operation. And as such it makes a good deal of sense to have a fare structure that reflects that.

It's true that all trips on the New York City Subway cost the same. But people traveling the distances that Metro travels might not use the New York Subway. For example, Port Washington is a similar distance from Penn Station as Shady Grove is from Metro Center. But a trip to Port Washington doesn't use the subway, it uses the Long Island Rail Road, and the peak fare is $10.00. The maximum you could possibly pay to go from Metro Center to Shady Grove is only $5.45.

Many people group Metro in with subways in New York and Chicago and Boston simply because they're all subways. But it's important to consider scale. The subway systems in those regions are generally compact and don't reach many places with the kind of suburban settlement patterns at the end of Metrorail lines.

In those cities, separate commuter and regional rail systems, which don't use flat fares, mainly serve suburban areas rather than the urban subway.

Let's compare some Metro lines to similar lines in other cities:

If we compare the Metro Red line in comparison with Boston's Red Line to Alewife and the MBTA Fitchburg Line, we can get a sense of scale.

Alewife is about as far from Downtown Crossing as Friendship Heights is from Metro Center. In Boston you'd pay $1.70 for that trip. Here, the fare would be just $1.60 off-peak or $2.70 during rush hour.

Bethesda is roughly the same distance from Metro Center as Waverly is from North Station. And in this case, Metro's $2.15/$3.15 fare is cheaper than MBTA's $4.25.

We can see similar trends if we compare our Orange Line to Philadelphia's Lansdale/Doylestown Line.

I chose Philadelphia and Boston because their metropolitan regions are about the same size as DC's. (Washington is the 7th largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the nation, while Philadelphia is 6th and Boston 10th.)

Traveling along the Broad Street (in Philadelphia) or Route 2 (in Boston) corridors, a traveler going the distance of outside-the-Beltway stops in DC would not take the subway, but would ride commuter rail.

Our residents of places like Vienna, Rockville, Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield, and soon Tysons Corner pay less than many would pay on commuter rail in those cities. Plus, they enjoy frequent, all-day, 7-day-a-week service. That has enormous benefits to our region, making walkable places like Rockville Town Center feasible and giving the DC region much higher transit ridership per capita than Boston or Philadelphia.

But just because Boston and Philadelphia's much smaller urban subways charge a flat fare doesn't mean it's unfair that a ride from Vienna to Metro Center costs quite a bit more than a ride from Rosslyn.

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Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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While I don't see a link to Michael Perkins numbers, the federal subsidy has to play a role here.

by charlie on Apr 18, 2012 10:21 am • linkreport

Zones. See, e.g, the Tube. If metro gets more expensive for people in DC proper (zone 1, say) people will stop riding. For example, $6 or $8 dollars roundtrip for a trip from Capitol South to Chinatown on the weekend, when metro is usually running longer headways, is insane. Ridership will plummet.

by MJ on Apr 18, 2012 10:28 am • linkreport

Awesome and very thorough analysis supporting a strong point. Nice work.

by nativedc on Apr 18, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

I'll go back to my old idea: Metro has too many fare possibilities. Metro should simplify by rounding each fare to, say, the nearest 50 cents.

Instead of having ridiculous permutations where one fare might be an extra nickel if you go one more station, you'd maintain the distance-based structure while vastly simplifying the cost to riders, making it easier to communicate.

So, let's say peak fares would be either:

1.75
2.25
2.75
3.25
3.75
4.25
4.75
5.25
5.75

Assuming fares increase roughly as proposed, this gives you 9 potential peak fares from any given station. It would be applying zone principles without creating actual zones. For each station, you could produce a map showing exactly which stations you can ride to for which price.

by Alex B. on Apr 18, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

How about a tiered fare structure based on stop count, say 5 or less, and 5+? Add a rush hour surcharge at a flat rate and you have a far more comprehensible fare structure that still charges long distance commuters more than short hoppers and can be explained without expensive signage that needs complex changes every time there is a fare increase.

If two tiers don't work, three might and would still be simpler than the distance based hodgepodge we have now.

by Dave J on Apr 18, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

Wonderful infographics! Reminds me of the Napoleon's march graphic.

The info on the metro maps should have price next to the destination station rather than in a separate table.

by MW on Apr 18, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

My first thought was zones as well, and I'm surprised Metro would seriously consider a flat fare because it's a bad idea for all of the reasons this post wonderfully illustrated. Along the lines of Alex B's idea, even rounding to the nearest 25 or 50 cents would help simplify the fare structure for infrequent riders (I'm guessing most regular Metro commuters have a Smartrip card and either take the same trip every day and know the cost, or have it subsidized like I do and don't pay close attention to the cost of each trip).

by grumpy on Apr 18, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

I should probably point out that, we've discussed why zones are a bad idea, too.
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/9261/

by Matt Johnson on Apr 18, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

"What the flat fare really means is that people making shorter trips will be subsidizing those making longer trips." - Au contraire. Currently, the commuters making the longer trips in the mornings and evenings subsidize the day time trips. The packed peak fare trains bring in much more revenue than the mid-day and late night service.
If you really want to be fair, lets set the cost based on the cost to operate trains at the given time divided by the number of riders. Obviously this won't work because the cost of a mid-day trip to get lunch in Chinatown would become prohibitive.
Everyone wants a "fair" system, but that just means "fair to me".

by SCS on Apr 18, 2012 11:11 am • linkreport

These graphical comparisons really make me think about how excellent of a system Metro is and how lucky the DC region is to have it. I spent four years at Brandeis University, which has a commuter rail stop next to campus on the Fitchburg Line you show for comparison in the post. Service to Boston was infrequent and, at $4.75 per one-way trip, too expensive for college students to use regularly. The student union had to hire a private shuttle bus operator to get students to and from Boston. It didn't run on weekdays, so very few students could pursue internship opportunities in the city. If we'd had the same level of rapid rail service as Grosvenor-Strathmore (which is apparently at the same distance from downtown) for just $2.75 off-peak, what a difference it would have made!

by Phil LaCombe on Apr 18, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

Love the graphics! Great work! Looks like Metro prices are right in line with other systems.

by Kevin C on Apr 18, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

Any alternate fare systems that require rounding or tiers or zones basically keep the same "problem" (personally I don't think it's a problem) that the current system has - if you want to know the fare from your station to another station, you have to look it up on a table anyway.

But they then introduce a whole host of other problems. In the case of a rounding system (round to the nearest 50 cents or whatever) you have the problem where people will drive en-masse one station closer in order to save a dollar a day if stations fall a certain way on the scale. So nobody will park at one station if another close one is that much cheaper.

by MLD on Apr 18, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

How would rounding simplify the process of determining your fare for infrequent riders? You would still need to look up your originating and destination stations on a chart to determine your fare. My guess is that infrequent riders wouldn't even notice that all the numbers were rounded on the chart and that many of the combinations in the chart result in the same fare. The fare determination process would remain the same.

by Falls Church on Apr 18, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

There is one reason why a flat fare makes sense in New York and not for the DC area: It's the equity and demographics of the regions that impel the different systems. Perhaps some of that has been influenced by the existence of the different fare structures for years, but it is where the systems are now, and they must serve the needs of their riders.

In New York, typically those with the longest rides are the ones with the lowest economic resources. They are forced to live far away from the expensive city center, whereas the truly wealthy live in or very close to the center. It would be inequitable to switch from the flat fare, and it would have devastating impacts on those who rely on the subway for long commutes. It would be a very regressive fee.

In DC, residents in suburban communities tend to be wealthier than many of those living only a few metro stops from the city center. It's actually a more progressive fare structure to charge those suburban riders more than the inner-city residents. If Metro switched to a flat fare and raised the fares for the short rides to be revenue-neutral, that would be a regressive move.

It might seem simpler to have a flat fare, but it would be terrible social economic policy.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Apr 18, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

Fischy, that's a good point about the social economic implications of the fare system, and it makes a lot of sense with the socio-geographical structure we have now. However, I do wonder about how the long-term trajectory of the the metro region could turn the current system on its head. If the region fully Europeanizes and DC becomes the place for the wealthy and many of the suburbs the place for the poor, will we end up turning the fare structure on its head? I don't know enough about the fares of European intracity rail systems to say what they charge, but I am familiar with the phenomenon that in European cities the bus system is for the well-to-do and the subway for the poor.

by Phil LaCombe on Apr 18, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

I like the fare rounding idea. The myriad of fare combinations doesn't make a difference for everyday commuters with smart trip cars, we have our cards loaded up and just refill when necessary, we don't have to look up a fare when we use metro. But for infrequent riders and tourists, simply being confronted with a fare chart with a different fare for every station, and then different fares again for different travel times, is bewildering. If there were only 10 or so different combinations it would be much easier and faster to find out how much their trip will be, and get a fare card for that amount, rather than searching a big board of block text for their destination station name, which they may not actually know anyhow. The goal should be a chart that enables a rider who has never seen it before to quickly understand how much they need to pay. A list of a hundred different fares in small text in a dim station does not do this.

by IsoTopor on Apr 18, 2012 11:30 am • linkreport

Great analysis. I'd also like to add that the Miami Metro also has faregates to enter and exit Metro stations, although Miami's pricing is a flat rate regardless of where you enter or exit.

by Juan Carlos Giménez on Apr 18, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

@isotorpor: The solution I've recommended is that the paper farecards always pay the peak fare. Off-peak discounts would not be shown on the fare machine tables, and would only be available using a Smartrip card.

Hopefully tourists know where they're going when they purchase a farecard.

The list is 85 stations, in alphabetical order. Look up the station you're going to, and the fare is the only number listed.

The way the Metro board is going, there will still be two fares listed for each destination based on the time of day. Hopefully they list the cash fares and have a note that Smartrip is a dollar cheaper, rather than list the Smartrip fares and have a note that cash is a dollar more.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 18, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

In DC, residents in suburban communities tend to be wealthier than many of those living only a few metro stops from the city center.

Aside from a handful of stops EOTR, where are the houses that are metro accessible in the city that are cheaper than what you find in the suburbs. I'd say you're not going to find a 2 bedroom condo or rowhouse that's metro accessible WOTR that's less than $400k.

Poor people in DC ride the bus (which does have a flat fare), not metro rail.

by Falls Church on Apr 18, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

All this discussion of course ignores the fact that no matter how awesome, fair or logical a flat fare is, it would hurt DC and DC knows it.

There's a requirement in the compact that you need at least one vote from each jurisdiction. DC would NEVER vote for a flat fare.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 18, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson. The post about zones seemed to make a fairly subjective decision that zones were a bad idea because they increased the cost of trips for a relatively small number of people who would commute only a short-distance out of one zone and into another. However, I'm not sure if that scenario reflects the reality of the system's ridership.

That post noted that "for some trips, the fare is a great deal cheaper...for example from the far edge of a zone, through the central core, and out to the far edge of a zone are much cheaper." Yet, that seems to belie the fact that many trips (not just a small amount, as the post implies) currently come from far stations into the central core and back (your own post in 2009 showed this). Since it's impossible to make a system equitable for all riders, the question becomes what is equitable for the greatest number of riders. The zone concept definitely deserves greater attention, and more in-depth analysis taking into account some of the ways that real world systems (e.g., London, Barcelona, etc) currently solve some of the pitfalls of having a hybrid commuter-urban system.

by Scoot on Apr 18, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

Nice work here.

I've always thought that one of metro's biggest problems is its identity crisis: metro is very confused about whether it is a subway or a commuter rail.

by Sam on Apr 18, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

Since it's impossible to make a system equitable for all riders, the question becomes what is equitable for the greatest number of riders.

How about a systen in which fares are assessed based upon the distance traveled? That would be equitable for all riders, wouldn't it? As a bonus, it should be fairly easy for WMATA to implement such a system . . .

by dcd on Apr 18, 2012 11:47 am • linkreport

One unfortunate thing about Metro also being a commuter rail is that it's resulted in two commuter rail services that are largely worthless for anything else, meaning that they woefully ill-serve the further reaches of the DC metro area. In Chicago there is reliable Metra service to places on the very edge of the metropolis (Lake Bluff, Aurora) both ways and at all times (minus the middle of the night. Whereas in DC if you live in Fredericksburg or Brunswick and want to travel in non-commuter directions, or anytime outside basically normal commuting hours, you're screwed.

The non-peak times were not frequent, but they were regular and reliable and affordable, which was more than sufficient, and are well-used. They're also much faster to further-out destinations than the El (or Metro here). It would be really nice to have something like that here.

by Joe on Apr 18, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

The flat fare would at least benefit lower-paid DC'rs who must travel to the suburbs for work.

I do think they should round numbers and consider it crazy that there's a 35c difference between Cong Heights and Anacostia.

by HogWash on Apr 18, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

A flat rate would seem to work only if there was a much higher volume of trips of short distances. I do think the fare structure we have is too complicated. A tier system seems to be the best as far as balancing the negatives and positives. You could probably make due with 5 tiers or so, based on number of stops. That wouldn't be a radical departure from what we currently have. You could price them in the way Alex B. has.

by Vik on Apr 18, 2012 12:08 pm • linkreport

I really don't understand why this keeps coming up. Aside from tourists, for whom simplification is already in the works, who that actually rides the metro finds "fare complexity" to be a problem? Is there any evidence that perceived complexity is hurting ridership?

This strikes me as a problem routinely raised by outsiders who don't actually use the system, but who do look at the fare charts to see how much it costs. Because if you actually use the system, you just put a bunch of money on a smarttrip and refill it when it gets empty.

by DRF on Apr 18, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

How about a systen in which fares are assessed based upon the distance traveled?

Yeah, agreed, but that's not even how the system works now. The people who travel from farther out of the system actually pay less per mile than people who travel within the core, or from stations near the core into the core.

Shady Grove to Metro Center - approx. distance 23 miles, cost 5.00 (21 cents per mile)

Woodley Park to Metro Center - approx. 3 miles, cost 1.95 (65 cents per mile)

Farragut North to Metro Center - approx. 1 mile , cost 1.95 (195 cents per mile)

In addition, the system assesses fares based partly on when you use the system (peak fares), and not necessarily only for your distance traveled.

But I agree completely with DRF. As Smartrip and monthly passes become more commonplace, the fare structure itself diminishes in importance because people will rarely have to even look at the fare chart. It is however important for the fares to at least be, well, fair -- and also important for tourists and occasional riders to be able to use the system easily so that they have a good impression of WMATA and of public transit generally.

by Scoot on Apr 18, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

Falls Church,

I know of many, many Metro accessible 2-bedroom condos, and a few houses, within the District proper, WOTR, that are below $400K. Heck, in my neighborhood, you can get *3* bedrooms (house) for over $100K less than that (that's a full reno...if you'd like to DIY or live in a place that is "nice but not luxurious" you can knock another $100-$150K off the full reno price). In another Metro-accessible neighborhood, a friend just bought a 4-bedroom house for less than $300K. Try this: http://www.redfin.com/homes-for-sale#!disp_mode=M&market=dc&max_price=400000&num_beds=2®ion_id=12839®ion_type=6&v=8. Sure, they're becoming more scarce, but they exist.

Not to mention all of the affordable units (both rentals and owner-occupieds) and rent-controlled units. My friend in Eastern Market has some people living in her (rent-controlled) building paying astoundingly low rents, and happens to live right around the corner from the Townhomes on Capitol Hill (best info I could find: http://www.apartments.com/rent/Washington-DC/Townhomes-on-Capitol-Hill/102585.12), down the street from Capper/Carrollsburg (now Capitol Quarter: http://www.jdland.com/dc/capper.cfm?tab=no2&tab1filter=phase2), and down the other street from Potomac Gardens.

Sure, the city has changed and affordable housing is becoming more scarce, but outside of non-Metro-accessible areas (except by car) far out in the 'burbs and parts of PG county (also largely non-Metro-accessible except by car), the largest concentration of lower-income people is still in the District proper, much of it WOTR. Unless the suburbs start providing large-scale public housing, extremely low-cost housing, and subsidized affordable housing, AND introduce rent control, this trend will continue, although the middle may get pushed out unless we start to develop undeveloped land into market-rate housing in earnest.

by Ms. D on Apr 18, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

@DRF: Tell that to Jim Dyke. Based on his comment, Metro is going to go evaluate it.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 18, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

The formula is that there's a base fare good for the first three miles, and distance-based fares for additional distance, and then a cap.

People didn't really talk that much about fare system complexity before we did peak of the peak and surcharges for paper farecards.

Why don't we just go back to distance-based fares, with smartrip getting a discount if you travel off-peak?

by Michael Perkins on Apr 18, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

People didn't really talk that much about fare system complexity before we did peak of the peak and surcharges for paper farecards.

What? Yes they did.

by Alex B. on Apr 18, 2012 12:49 pm • linkreport

I'm completely against a flat fare for Metro, but everyone is overanalysing why NYC's fare is a flat $2.25: because in 1904, you couldn't have any other fare system on a rapid transit system. It has nothing to do with equity, it's that they've never bothered to change it because the system is so massive and everyone would be against it.

by Phil on Apr 18, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport

@Ms D

While its true that there is very little affordable housing within walking distance of metro in the suburbs, in fact much is accessible to metro by bus or bicycle. I am at least somewhat familiar with South Arlington, west Alexandria (including southern towers, the beauregard corridor, and landmark) the Annandale section of Fairfax - all are known for old, inexpensive, walk up apartment complexes with large numbers of low income people (heavily immigrants) and all have bus access to metrorail, often fairly heavily used.

Whiles I have little doubt that most suburban metro riders are middle class or affluent, and for that to change would require a full suburban collapse (TM - Oboe), I wanted to set the record straight

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 18, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

Great analysis and graphics! Always happy to see people pointing out that the DC Metro is unique as it mediates the roles of urban subway with heavy commuter rail. Most of the lines don't even run along streets/corridors for more than a few consistent stops while the distance between stations has provided the unusual opportunity for transit infill (NoMa).

The flat fare vs. zoned/peak hour fare debate generates a lot of interesting and unanticipated side effects. In Toronto, which still has a single fare (token!) system for the entire subway-bus-streetcar network, cycling took off as a way of traveling short distances in the core much faster than the streetcars that operate in mixed traffic and without having to fork out the $3 flat fare.

Meanwhile, I know DC carowners who have done the math and calculated their reverse commute to the suburban office (with free parking) is cheaper than taking Metro in the peak hours.

Of course the other aspect not discussed in the post is the flat fare bus system which is a boon for the city; the bus goes more places in the region, travels along active mixed-use corridors, and is easier to improve strategically (ie the new K9 express route on New Hampshire Ave through PG, MoCo, Takoma Park and DC).

by eozberk on Apr 18, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

I think it's good to evaluate fares every now and then. There seems to be more complexity, and questions, with relatively recent changes like peak of peak and paper farecard surcharges, but the idea of how to price the fares in a way that will lead to the most revenue is one that's always taken place.

There are other systems with flat rates and you can go far distances and pay hardly anything. People are going to hypothesize ways in which something similar could work in our system. There's also some interaction between gas prices and fares in the outer areas of the system that impact ridership and revenues. When we begin talking about $6+ fares one-way, some people are going to start thinking about systems where the burden is shifted more towards shorter distance trips.

The flat-rate isn't right for us. Our system is a bit too comprehensive while simultaneously serving a high number of people, by percentage, from far distances for fair and reasonable flat-rate to work. A tier-system based on number of stops would be better.

by Vik on Apr 18, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

SCS -- you could argue that building the system to meet peak demand needs costs more, and that the cost of serving those trips in the peak is higher than the seeming revenue gains, and that the cost of providing service in nonpeak hours is higher because of the peak demand impact on the design of the system. Of course, it is the peak demand that justifies building the system in the first place.

Phil et al. -- the reason that NYC doesn't go to distance based fares is the last time they calculated the cost to convert the system, it was estimated to be $1 billion in new fare equipment and fare gates. It's likely higher now.

But yes, DC would get screwed by a flat fare, because it'd be higher than what lots of people currently pay for in-city travel, and yes, many people in the suburbs would get lower fares.

by Richard Layman on Apr 18, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

[Applause.] I've meant to pull together a bunch of similar thoughts into something more coherent, but of course you've outdone me.

Also worth pointing out:
- Metrobus's flat fares are actually lower than in most other big cities
- Almost all new metro systems built use distance based pricing; Beijing is the only exception I know of
- Nobody seems to complain about variable pricing for hotels, airlines, even restaurants (dinner vs. lunch)
- The "it's confusing" argument would be obviated by using more intuitive TVMs, as used in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Japan (where I could even figure it out without English labels), etc.

by Payton on Apr 18, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

@SCS

To sort of echo Layman here, once you build and operate the system at peak providing the off-peak service they do costs very little due to work hour rules, the economics of finding people to work 3-4 hours during peak periods only, etc.

Add the fact that if the system didn't run off-peak it would be much less useful and fewer people would probably ride it at peak (land use would not be as intense as a transit-dependent lifestyle would be much less attractive).

So yes, if you look at $/trip by time period, peak is "subsidizing" off-peak, but the entire picture is much more complicated than that.

by MLD on Apr 18, 2012 2:26 pm • linkreport

@Ms. D, Walker

There are affordable housing programs in the suburbs. Montgomery County had one of the first moderately priced dwelling unit (MPDU) programs in the 1970's, and Arlington and Fairfax have similar arrangements as well. I agree that there's a need for a more equitable distribution of housing prices across the region (especially close to suburban job centers like Tysons or Bethesda), but it's not like DC has been shouldering the entire burden of low-cost housing.

@Matt

Anyway, this is a great post! I don't have an opinion on the fare structure, but I really appreciated your comparison of Metro lines to Regional Rail lines in Boston or Philadelphia, where I live now. I sometimes think about taking the R5 (I don't know anyone who calls it the Lansdale/Doylestown line) to Elkins Park for some tasty Korean Food, but thought it was too far. Now I know it's basically West Falls Church.

by dan reed! on Apr 18, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

I don't really know anyone who is negatively effected by metro's "confusing" fare structure other then tourists. The only way tourists won't be confused by the fare is if it was a flat rate, and I think this post makes a good case for why that is bad idea.

As someone mentioned, everyone I know who rides metro just puts money on their smart card and doesn't pay attention to the exact fare. Making it more simple wouldn't affect their lives at all.

by nathaniel on Apr 18, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

I don't really know anyone who is negatively effected by metro's "confusing" fare structure other then tourists. The only way tourists won't be confused by the fare is if it was a flat rate, and I think this post makes a good case for why that is bad idea.

As someone mentioned, everyone I know who rides metro just puts money on their smart card and doesn't pay attention to the exact fare. Making it more simple wouldn't affect their lives at all.

Good thing DC doesn't get many tourists, then.

I disagree with the assertion that the current structure can't be simplified. I think it can while still maintaining distance-based fares.

I also disagree with the assertion that because riders with SmarTrips aren't usually inconvenienced by this, that means it's not a problem.

by Alex B. on Apr 18, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: I'm just not sure that the difference between rounding to the nearest nickel and rounding to the nearest 50 cents is going to be simpler enough that it makes a real difference.

If you care about what your exact fare is, there's still going to be an 86x86 matrix of fares, times two or more if you're going to maintain peak/offpeak/paper/disabled pricing.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 18, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

Re: the scale comparisons. One map that I wish were still in print (maps being among the niche markets most upset by digital content) is the Northeast USA Passenger Rail Travelers Map. It shows the entire NEC on one side and same-scale insets (with downtown insets) of five major metros on the other.

On this one map, you can notice things like NYC taking up about as much space as the four smaller cities, Philadelphia's reliance on regional rail, and how trains were routed into the various downtowns.

by Payton on Apr 18, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: I think if we went with that system, people would complain that travel from [insert your home station here] to [insert desired destination] is $4.75, but to [insert one station closer] is only $4.25, and what's up with that?

Also, since Metro wouldn't be able to decrease revenue, the adjustments would all be made in the up direction.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 18, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

A shift to a flat rate system might be politically feasible if accompanied by location-specific increases in parking fees. Maybe if we really wanted to encourage suburban TOD's.

by Jim T on Apr 18, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

I completely agree with those who have been saying that no one who uses Metro regularly is inconvenienced by the variable fare.

For tourists, the important thing is to market well the simple fare instruments aimed at tourists, like the new day pass. "Not from these here parts? Skip the confusing fare chart and grab one o' these!"

by Lucre on Apr 18, 2012 4:03 pm • linkreport

I agree with Lucre - the best solution is advertising the day pass for tourists, and perhaps having more types of passes.

As much as I agree with Alex B.'s idea to round the fares off, it still would not simplify the charts.

by SMB on Apr 18, 2012 4:05 pm • linkreport

Falls Church said earlier: " I'd say you're not going to find a 2 bedroom condo or rowhouse that's metro accessible WOTR that's less than $400k."

Not true. Huntington.

by Froggie on Apr 18, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

Joe: "One unfortunate thing about Metro also being a commuter rail is that it's resulted in two commuter rail services that are largely worthless for anything else, meaning that they woefully ill-serve the further reaches of the DC metro area."

Unfortunately, very true. I've long said this is the greatest need on the metro area. I grew up in NY suburbs, which have terrific suburban rail systems, with stations typically in the town centers, serving huge numbers of commuters with a variety of express and local trains. MARC and VRE are bad jokes compared to most suburban rail systems in this country.

If there were decent rail service in from Frederich and Clarksville, that would do much more to cure the back-ups on I-270 than any road project. Even good express train service from Shady Grove would make a big dent. There was a candidate for Congress a few years ago in Frederick, who was making that a big part of her campaign, but failed to spark a conversation about it.

I'm sure the same would be true with respect to traffic on I-95 and 395 from the south, if VRE was a better, faster service, with greater reach.

If there was only one policy I could change, it would be to make huge investments to upgrade commuter rail.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Apr 18, 2012 4:50 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

If you care about what your exact fare is, there's still going to be an 86x86 matrix of fares, times two or more if you're going to maintain peak/offpeak/paper/disabled pricing.

But you don't need to rely on the matrix. You'd be able to graphically depict it far more easily. You'd be able to see, visually, from the station I'm at now, how much it would cost to go to station X.

Putting the data in visual form would also make the fare increases over distance more intuitive. You'd see that as you go further, the cost goes up. You don't get that looking at a table of stations in alphabetical order.

I think if we went with that system, people would complain that travel from [insert your home station here] to [insert desired destination] is $4.75, but to [insert one station closer] is only $4.25, and what's up with that?

I don't. The concept of fare zones is simple enough. This would effectively be a zone system, just zones that are relative to each station rather than the system as a whole.

Also, since Metro wouldn't be able to decrease revenue, the adjustments would all be made in the up direction.

Huh? Without doing a in-depth analysis, you could just as easily round half of them down and half of them up. If the old fare was 2.45, new fare is 2.25. Old fare, 2.55, new fare 2.75. If it was 2.50, then round up, I guess. Perhaps you'd want to adjust some trip combinations that are particularly popular or something.

Would there be uncertainty? Sure, but not so much that you'd have to round all of the fares up. Some trips would be less, some would be more.

by Alex B. on Apr 18, 2012 5:48 pm • linkreport

@alexb
I think you are overestimating people's ability to read a zone map. I think they are easy but I thought the same about the old taxi map, something people apparently had lots of trouble with. The big trouble with them if your are a tourist is you still have to find where you are on the map and where you are going. I think a lot of people know what line they are suppose to take but not necessarily where that is on the map.

by Nathaniel on Apr 18, 2012 6:17 pm • linkreport

This post is fascinating to me; I grew up in the DC area (MD) but now live in Boston. Importantly, when I lived in MD, I was between the Rockville and Shady Grove stations at the end of the Red Line. Now, I live in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston which, while not downtown, is much closer to the urban core than I used to be. Of course, I now revel in my low flat fare privilege (or, rather, I pay a measly $59/mo for unlimited rides). But your post makes it clear why that would not work for the DC area.

I wonder, what made the DC metro develop differently from Boston or Philadelphia? Are the populations in the Boston and Philadelphia metro areas more densely clustered around their downtowns, while DC's is more spread out into the suburbs? (What do those distributions look like as a function of distance from downtown?) Also, while you explained that the DC metro is like both subway + commuter rail, do the other cities' commuter rails go further? Is that the equivalent of MARC trains, or is MARC even further far-flung?

Having lived in both DC and Boston areas, I personally think both have their pros and cons. I will say, I don't miss having to tap out of a metro station. But again, I live much "closer-in" now. ;)

by AL on Apr 18, 2012 7:17 pm • linkreport

If you round half of them up and half of them down, that works for a static analysis, but the fares that get rounded down would tend to attract more riders, lowering revenue, and the ones that are raised would reduce ridership, lowering revenue.

On net, the rounding would have to be skewed so that the average increases.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 18, 2012 9:14 pm • linkreport

I certainly didn't mean to argue that suburbs don't have affordable housing programs or affordable housing. They certainly do, but, on density alone, there just isn't as much of it per unit of population/area as there is in the District. I was just refuting the point that there is no low-income, affordable, or middle-class housing in the District WOTR. There is certainly much of all of these kinds of housing throughout the District, although increasingly less and less middle-class housing. And more of this housing is Metro-accessible than in the suburbs, partially by virtue of more *housing* in the District being Metro accessible, and partially by virtue of resistance to wholly uprooting housing developments that are near Metro. While lower-middle-class residents get pushed out by gentrification, many concerted efforts have been made to preserve some of the largest blocks of low-income housing (i.e., replacing Ellen Wilson with the Townhomes on Capitol Hill, preserving all the low-income and affordable housing in Capitol Quarter, etc.).

by Ms. D on Apr 18, 2012 9:28 pm • linkreport

The current system is FAR too complicated for tourists. Capitol South is a nightmare during the Cherry Blossom season.

Charging per distance would be fine if the primary issue were just money - but it's not: it's about getting people, especially long-distance commuters - to ride transit. The current system - with its lack of free transfers from bus to rail, etc. - discourages long-distance commuters.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 18, 2012 10:13 pm • linkreport

And, yes, as a regular rider of Toronto's TTC - it was nice to see the photograph of their friendly token machine!

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 18, 2012 10:16 pm • linkreport

Keep in mind that the entire fare system will be replaced in the not-too-distant future. That's a good opportunity to roll out more user-friendly TVMs, and to vastly expand the population of tourists who can pay via something resembling SmarTrip (i.e., the credit cards already in their wallets). WMATA also seems to be experimenting a bit more with passes, although I'm disappointed to see that the one-day pass is getting hiked by 2/3. A separate weekend day pass should be considered alongside.

@AL: "I wonder, what made the DC metro develop differently from Boston or Philadelphia?"

Consider that the T opened its first subway in 1897 and that Metro opened in 1976, and that in 1930 Boston had 60% more residents than Washington -- but that in 2012, the DC metro is 25% more populous than the Boston metro. A much greater share of the Washington region was built as auto-oriented sprawl, and Metro was intended to cater to that reality by extending far into the suburbs.

by Payton on Apr 18, 2012 11:20 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: what is the point of avoiding fares that are even multiples of $0.50? Why not round the fares to the nearest quarter?

But I think any cost-neutral simplification would be an improvement. I am an infrequent rider, and when I do use it I am keeping track of small children; I don't have the time or energy to precisely load the four two-way fare cards to the exact amount. Rounding the fares to the nearest quarter would make it easier to do the business at the beginning of the trip.

by goldfish on Apr 19, 2012 8:16 am • linkreport

MATT -

Two questions:

1] Is it fair for suburban riders to pay more in fares if they live in jurisdictions that have contributed more tax dollars to the Metro system than those closer in?

2] How are Boston & Philadelphia's subway systems paid for? (i.e. state legislature or localities)

Thank you!

by Pelham1861 on Apr 19, 2012 8:49 am • linkreport

@goldfish,

Yes, rounding to a quarter would be acceptable, too. I chose 50 cents to try and minimize the total number of possible fares, but rounding to the nearest 25 cents would also work.

by Alex B. on Apr 19, 2012 9:13 am • linkreport

@Pelham1861

1. I would say yes, they are traveling further so they should pay more in fares. AND the people who drive into the city from those areas are the non-riders who benefit most from Metro (fewer cars along their route), so they should pay into the cost as well.

2. If you go to this page http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/data.htm#profiles1 you can search in that top box for any transit agency (or city) and see the funding mix. WMATA gets more revenue from fares than Boston or Philly. It also gets more local funding and less state funding, partially because I think DC is counted as "local" and not "state" and partially because WMATA gets funding from localities like Arlington/Alexandria/Falls Church, etc.

by MLD on Apr 19, 2012 9:13 am • linkreport

To SCS:

While peak periods raise lots of revenue with the peak and POP fares they are also the most expensive service to operate. Off-peak service costs WMATA and other transit systems very little because the employees get paid for 8 hours of work. Since 70% of the operating cost of a typical rail transity system is labor, running midday service with employees you had to have for rush hour has little extra cost. Your arguement is a bit stronger for late nights.

Since labor is such a large portion of WMATA's costs, one way they could save money tomorrow is by running slightly fewer rush hour trains but make them all 8 cars in length. This results in the same number of seats and cars during rush hours but fewer expensive train operators.

by steve strauss on Apr 19, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

State law in New York prohibits a distance-based subway fare. This is due, in part, to an acknowledgement that wealthier riders predominate in close-in Manhattan and Brooklyn and lower income riders now predominate further out on many subway lines.

by Steve Strauss on Apr 19, 2012 9:22 am • linkreport

I think this post makes a strong case for keeping Metro's distance-based fare structure essentially as-is. But it seems to me that there is one thing that could potentially help D.C. residents and visitors alike sort through the confusing fares and charts which I don't think I have ever heard brought up in these discussions: a new fare-collection system -- specifically, new fare machines that would act a lot more like the ticket machines on, say, the commuter railroads in the New York City area than Metro's current, outdated machines with a single LED display. Why aren't there touch-screen displays (or something similar) where riders can enter their destination station and it automatically brings up the correct fare? You could potentially add additional options, such as round-trip fare or parking fees. And because when you're riding Metro round-trip you may not always know the time of your return trip -- and whether it would be during the higher-fare peak or peak-of-the-peak periods -- perhaps the system could place a slightly larger hold on your credit or debit card and then charge for your actual fare at the end of the day or when you've exited a parking facility (since, presumably, you wouldn't be coming back to ride Metro again that day). You know, sort of like how hotels, some gas stations, and other businesses place holds on credit and debit cards to account for additional charges.

by Dustin on Apr 19, 2012 9:55 am • linkreport

@Dustin -- new fare machines would help a lot. Instead of walk to the chart, pick off your fare and then walk back to the fare machine and feed it your money, why not select the proper fare straight off of the fare machine?

by goldfish on Apr 19, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

Long distance commuters not only pay fares that are too high, they also pay for parking, or also busfare. That's an expensive commute. This fare system discourages long-distance commuters from using the system.

And I live a ten minute walk from the Bethesda metro.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 19, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

When I was growing up in Bethesda, a bus trip to downtown DC (exactly 10 miles according to the signpost at the corner) cost a DC fare plus 2 suburban zones. At the same time, when spending summers in Chicago, a single fare was good within city limits, meaning potentially double the distance. Even after CTA added a transfer surcharge, I paid nearly double for a same or shorter trip in DC.
CTA still has a flat fare within city limits AND various multi day/monthly passes. As to Metro being a "hybrid" subway/commuter RR--nonsense. The problem is the arbitrary set of borders in a metropolitan area. When the Queens Boulevard trunk of the NYC Subway was built, much of the area was undeveloped, now it is dense--sound familiar? MARC to Rockville is a commuter service, Metro to Rockville is the subway.
A further note, if NYC tried to institute exit swipe/tagging, the back up at major stations would strangle the system. Too bad Metro doesn't yet have the volume to make the riders revolt against exit tagging.

by david vartanoff on Apr 19, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

Very valid points. However, the lowest possible fare in the Philadelphia map the Broad Street Line is $1.55 when using a token. Since the WMATA map uses the SmarTrip fares which is cheaper then the farecard fare, I think it is only fair to compare it to SEPTA's token fare.

by Gus on Apr 19, 2012 8:52 pm • linkreport

Dustin, you mean like the systems I have encountered in Hong Kong and Beijing, where I walk up to a computer screen, touch my destination station, select one-way or round-trip, swipe my credit card, and the machine spits a farecard out at me with the right fare on it? Like that technology has even been invented...oh, wait...

Sure, the MTR and Beijing subway are newer than Metro, but this technology seems like a common sense solution in a system with destination-based fares. Just charge "peak" fares to anyone buying a fare card (as opposed to riders with Smarttrip here, Octopus card in HK, etc.), problem solved. We could even put a surcharge on those fares to pay for the new machines, without hitting commuters too hard.

by Ms. D on Apr 19, 2012 9:51 pm • linkreport

I largely agree with what you're saying, and I do think your graphics are great, but having just moved from Boston, I must point out that your choice in subway lines to compare is very misleading. The Alewife branch of the red line is the shortest line in Boston (having been artificially blocked by Arlington, MA) and the Shady Grove branch of the red line is the longest line in DC. DC's lines are indeed longer on average, but Boston has two lines that go roughly 10 miles away from the core, and only the red line in DC goes substantially beyond that distance.

The longest lines in Boston used to actually charge more, but that was done away in favor of a flat rate around the time of the last fare increase (2004?)

by alex on Apr 20, 2012 12:21 am • linkreport

Fairness isn't as big of an issue in my opinion. There's the issue of economics. (Is it "fair" that old people get charged a discount at the movie theater?)

From a cost perspective, it certainly cost more to service the suburbs, but those people may the most sensitive to prices so, all else being equal, it may make sense to give them a relative discount compared to pure cost pricing.

For example, suburb people who drive to the station are more likely to just give up metro altogether and drive to work whereas people in the urban core are less likely to do so and may not even have a car. (They can bike possibly.) This may sound heartless, but it's ECON 101.

by Anony on Apr 20, 2012 7:54 am • linkreport

My suggestion if we want to simplify the structure:

Charge based upon jurisdiction. This keeps it relatively simple as there are only 6 of them: DC, PG, MONT, FFX, ARL, ALEX.

This means there would be 36 possible fares. This may not be "that" fair, but it could be a reasonable compromise.

by Anony on Apr 20, 2012 7:59 am • linkreport

alex: The northern Green and both ends of Blue are shorter, and some of the southern branches of Green. So it seems to me that northern Red is about in the middle.

by David Alpert on Apr 20, 2012 8:50 am • linkreport

I am wholeheartedly in support of a flat-fare system. While I don't live far out in the burbs, I'd be willing to pay more for my short trips to subsidize more drivers to commute via metro as well as those impoverished people that would otherwise take absurdly long (multi-transfer) bus rides because the train is too expensive for them.

by Neutrino on Apr 20, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

I'm curious, do the stations listed in the comparison have parking lots, as Shady Grove does?
For a commuter, the cost of parking is part of the overall trip cost. To lower this cost, I am lucky enough to live near a Ride-On bus stop that gets me to Shady Grove. But this is again, a very limited option, since the buses do not have the same operating hours as Metro does.
I think part of the problem is that Metro ventures into predominantly car-dependant areas, where there are insufficient bus systems to make the entire system easier to use.
I agree with Fischy (Ed F.), the suburbs lack a decent commuter rail.
While visiting friends in Toronto, I was amazed how I could stay with them in the suburbs and take either a limited stop bus or train into the downtown area (similar distance as Shady Grove to Metro Center), and be there in half an hour for ~5 dollars. Didn't have to pay to park, if I used the local buses - they ran until 12am on weeknights - far more useful than the Ride-On in MoCo.

Unfortunately, the public transit systems we have in place do not work well together - other than attempting to unify the payment method accepted.

by R S on Apr 20, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

David: True, the streetcar like greenline branches are certainly shorter, and they do charge the full 1.70 subway fare and connect into the rest of the system. I think because there are only two longer lines that go out 10 miles, the mbta decided the loss was minimal and it was simpler to just go with a flat rate and eliminate the complicated fare structure.

This does lead to some interested inequities though. It costs $1.70 to travel from Braintree to downtown, a distance of about 10 miles as the bird flies, while it costs $4.25 to travel from the Roslindale commuter rail station downtown, at a distance of less than 6 miles.

by alex on Apr 20, 2012 4:36 pm • linkreport

What about poor old Charlie - the man who never returned?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VMSGrY-IlU

by Bill C on Apr 21, 2012 4:20 pm • linkreport

But you don't need to rely on the matrix. You'd be able to graphically depict it far more easily. You'd be able to see, visually, from the station I'm at now, how much it would cost to go to station X.

I always thought the best solution was a big map shaped interface on the wall. At each station on the "map" is a button. Push the button and it calculates the fare to that station at that time and displays it on a small digital display. Simple. No muss. Easy to update when fares change.

by David C on Apr 21, 2012 8:38 pm • linkreport

Why not due a comparison with lines in all cities that were names ?

Whats the longest possible ride In New York, Chicago, Boston etc for each system present then compare those to the Washington Metro by distance then fare. I'm quite sure there are parts of the NY Subway where the trip would be longer than the Wash Metro since NYC is larger.

What is the smallest length between stations on a commuter rail how much is it compared to subways and the Washington Metro.

Why is there no mention of Metrobus or any of the local bus systems

by kk on Apr 22, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

I beg to differ on the issue of distance between DC and New York.

Places such as Tottenville on Staten Island, Far Rockaway in Queens, Little Neck in Queens and City Island in the Bronx are quite far from Manhattan are very far from each other.

They all have some type of access to the Subway and i'm willing to bet that if you measured the distance between Vienna, Rockville, Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield from Farragut North, Foggy Bottom, Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza and Capitol South it would be about the same as Tottenville , Far Rockaway, Little Neck and City Island are to Time Square

by kk on Apr 22, 2012 5:42 pm • linkreport

"Michael Perkins ran the numbers and discovered that (assuming no loss in ridership) a flat fare would need to be at least $2.90 to be revenue-neutral.

Fare's fair

That's more than any other system with a flat fare"

Nonsense. Toronto (where the picture with the token machine is from) has a flat fare of $3.00. Not only that, but I'm guessing it will hit $3.25 in the next year.

by ChrisC on Apr 24, 2012 10:41 pm • linkreport

No, in Toronto, the rate goes down significantly if you buy 8 tokens. AND there is free transfer among rail/streetcar/bus, unlike DC.

And the spiffy new subway trains that don't have a smelly/moldy carpet.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 24, 2012 10:56 pm • linkreport

Also, Canadian Dollars.

Yes, the exchange rate is even now but prices are still higher in Canada.

by MLD on Apr 25, 2012 8:28 am • linkreport

My daily ride on Metro costs me over $4.

No ride on TTC has ever cost me more than $3. And, again, that includes free transfers.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 25, 2012 9:28 am • linkreport

@Capt. Hilts

A TTC subway ride from Finch to Union Station covers some 9 miles.

A Metro ride from Shady Grove to Metro Center covers some 18 miles.

Apples and oranges.

by Alex B. on Apr 25, 2012 9:41 am • linkreport

No. On TTC you can ride greater distances for less.

The 501 Queen St. streetcar is 15.4 miles long. And you can transfer to rail, etc. for free.

I ride from Bethesda to Capitol South and it costs me over $4 one way. If I had to take a bus, that total doubles.

The point is to get people out of cars. People that ride transit a favor for those who do not ride transit.

You get more and pay less in Toronto.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 25, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

@Capt Hilts

The overall length of the line isn't my point - the 501 line extends a long distance on either side of Downtown Toronto. From Long Branch to Downtown is about 10 miles. If you're going to argue that the 501 is 15 miles long, then you'd also have to acknowledge that the Red Line is 32 miles long - but that's largely irrelevant, since very few people would ride it end to end.

No. On TTC you can ride greater distances for less.

Sometimes. But other times, you can't - because WMATA's system has a broader reach.

But the larger point is this: so what?

by Alex B. on Apr 25, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

The larger point is that as a result of crazy DMV funding issues that discourage Big Picture Thinking, the fare system discourages the very people that we want taking Metro, from taking it. If you live out at the end, or have to park, or have to transfer between modes of transit, Metro is very, very expensive.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 25, 2012 10:15 am • linkreport

Yes, it is - relative to transit agencies in other cities. Yet it's still heavily used.

My larger point is: so what? There's nothing inherently wrong with distance-based fares. I'd be all for reducing transfer penalties as much as possible, but that doesn't seem to be at the core of your argument - which appears to be base price.

By the way: That 501 streetcar? From Long Branch to Union in Toronto via the adjacent GO train? $4.60.

by Alex B. on Apr 25, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

@Capt Hilts
I ride from Bethesda to Capitol South and it costs me over $4 one way.

Why does it cost that much; the fare is only $3.80 between those stations during peak-of-the-peak.

And if you had to take a bus in addition it would add $1.

And yes, if you lived in Toronto you could take that same distance trip on the 501. And it would take TWICE AS LONG (over an hour) because it's a streetcar. Or you could take the GO train, which is faster, but it costs around the same as a Metro ride (~$4 with a monthly pass).

by MLD on Apr 25, 2012 10:25 am • linkreport

Beats me, but it does.

Did today. There's a huge savings before 3:00pm.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 25, 2012 10:31 am • linkreport

Distance should not be as strong a fare determinant as it is now. I don't have a problem with some distance-based fare adjustments. But for end-of-the-line riders, it's wildly expensive.

Right now, Montgomery County DOT is weighing plans to spend huge sums to widen I-270. It has just spent a fortune of money on the Inter-County-Connector.

This money would be better spent - by Maryland - to give long-distance commuters fare relief. We don't want them in their cars. We want them off the streets, out of our parking lots and not cutting through our neighborhoods. And it takes price pressure off gas prices for those who must drive.

Money should not be the primary determinant of Metro plans. It should be getting people out of cars because everybody benefits when fewer people drive.

People in the District would benefit by having fewer people driving into the District and parking there.

I ride both WMATA and TTC regularly and TTC is a better deal. So's Manhattan. What do they know that we don't? They don't have three competing municipalities that want the others to contribute more. THAT's the difference.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 25, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

I ride both WMATA and TTC regularly and TTC is a better deal. So's Manhattan. What do they know that we don't? They don't have three competing municipalities that want the others to contribute more. THAT's the difference.

No, the difference is that WMATA isn't the equivalent of TTC, but rather a hybrid of TTC and the GO Train.

I'm not sure I trust your own math on your fares. As MLD mentions, the cost for Bethesda-Capitol South is:

$3.60 regular
$3.80 peak of peak
$2.15 off-peak

by Alex B. on Apr 25, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

>>No, in Toronto, the rate goes down significantly if you buy 8 tokens.<<

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I didn't say anything about the cost per ride if you buy many rides. There is a volume discount on nearly every system in the world.

What I said was that the flat fare for a single ride is $3.00.

by ChrisC on Apr 25, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

>>No, in Toronto, the rate goes down significantly if you buy 8 tokens.<<

No to your no. THE FLAT FARE IS $3.00. Period. End of story.

And I ride the TTC almost every day. I know that there is a volume discount (just like any system). I myself use a monthly Metropass. That doesn't change the fact that the flat fare is $3.00.

by ChrisC on Apr 25, 2012 5:12 pm • linkreport

But by buying 8 tokens in Toronto, you get a significantly cheaper ride. And, you can hand tokens to friends who might have to have a single ride. You can leave them as tips in restaurants. You can't do that with a discounted ride here. Tokens at a discount are easily shared or transferred. For that reason, only the most transient of city visitors pay the full fare. Otherwise, tokens are easily passed around among friends and acquaintances. I have never bought a monthly pass, but I've never paid a full $3 fare, either.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 25, 2012 5:21 pm • linkreport

@ChrisC:
To be clear, the analysis of the other systems was limited to the United States. There are plenty of great things to learn from our counterparts north of the border, but the comparisons in this post are referring to systems here.

Thank you for your insight with respect to the TTC. And thanks for contributing to the discussion.

by Matt Johnson on Apr 25, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

Metro and WMATA do a lot of things right. But getting discounts to ride if very difficult compared to other cities. If the federal government stopped the subsidy, you would hear some screaming.

But the current system is also horribly confusing to people from out of town: how the cards are used, how fares work, when they work. This past week I've helped several people who were trying to add fare at Capitol South and the machine told them to see the attendant. In one case I could get more fare on their card, in another I was unable to help them and sent them to the attendant. I never had to see an attendant in Moscow, Toronto or NYC. It's VERY confusing from out of towners.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 25, 2012 5:30 pm • linkreport

1) I suspect that the $2.20? minimum fare in inner city DC is already sending the impoverished to the buses instead.
Sucks to be poor.

2)But if you're a suburbanite who wants to save money, You can take a bus from Potomac (T2) and transfer at Friendship for your ride downtown. $1.50 fare. Being affluent gives you options.

by Adam on Apr 26, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

According to the Examiner, parking and riding from the end of the line can cost $18.50 per day.

That's a lot.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 27, 2012 8:43 am • linkreport

It *should* cost a lot to park and ride from the end of the line. We're subsidizing a far-flung suburban lifestyle by creating a traffic-free ride into the CBD. The problem is that driving from past the end of the line into the CBD costs less when it should cost even more.
Here's a great post that summarizes the paradox of Metro: http://nqrw.tumblr.com/post/17881756025/washington-dc-not-all-metros-are-created-equal

by Phil LaCombe on Apr 27, 2012 8:51 am • linkreport

I get your point, but lower income people and families are being forced out of the city by economics. It's in our best interest they not drive.

I place a lot of the blame on Maryland, for putting too much money into the ICC instead of funding transit.

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 27, 2012 8:55 am • linkreport

Agreed. The ICC was extraordinarily foolish. I believe that eventually DC will become so gentrified and the suburbs so crowded with poor people that Metro will have to adopt a flat fare. But that's still some years away.

by Phil LaCombe on Apr 27, 2012 9:01 am • linkreport

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