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Our bus fares aren't that cheap (if you transfer)

WMATA is considering raising bus fares, with the justification that they're lower than in other cities. But somehow every time this topic comes up, people forget that there's a big difference between our bus fares and other cities': riders transferring between bus and rail pay a lot more.

Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

The agency recently put out a survey which, among other things, asked riders what they thought about various options for a fare increase. For Metrobus, the survey asked about raising the bus fare from the current $1.60 to $1.75 or $1.85:

Passenger fares cover about 30 cents out of every dollar of the cost of providing Metrobus service. The current Metrobus fare is $1.60 for SmarTrip® and $1.80 for cash. Metrobus fares are relatively low compared to other major metropolitan areas around the country:
San Francisco & Chicago$2.00
New York City & Atlanta$2.50
That makes it look like our bus fares are relatively cheap, right? Maybe compared to those cities if you're just riding the bus. But a lot of people don't just ride the bus. They take a bus from home to a Metrorail station and then ride the train, and back again in the evening. Or a bus to a train to another bus.

Many buses, in fact, don't go downtown at all. They end at a Metrorail station. When Metro opened, the agency cut back many of the buses so they just fed the rail system. The same is going to happen around Tysons when the Silver Line opens (or even before).

Therefore, to really compare fares, we have to look at the fares for a rail and bus trip. Since our rail system has variable fares, it's more complex to compute the bus-to-rail fare, so for simplicity let's look at the rail-to-bus fare, assuming you've already paid for a rail trip from some other location.

City &
Bus fare (w/card)1Bus fare after railBus fare after other railRail+bus pass?Inter-agency rail+bus pass?
Washington (WMATA)$1.60$1.10Full fare from MARC/VRENoYes
Philadelphia (SEPTA)$2.25$1.00$1.65 from PATCO2YesNo
Los Angeles
$1.5035¢/$1.503No other railYesNo
$2.0025¢Full fare from MetraYesYes
New York (NYCT)$2.504FREEFull fareYesNo
Atlanta (MARTA)$2.50FREENo other railYesN/A
San Francisco (MUNI)$2.00FREE$1.75 from BARTYesYes
$1.50FREEFull fare from commuter railYesNo Yes5

1 All fare calculations assume you have the electronic fare media for that city. Most agencies offer better fares for people with the card (SmartTrip in Washington, MetroCard in NYC, Clipper in SF, Breeze in Atlanta, etc.)

2 Riders transferring from PATCO to select city train and bus lines can buy a round-trip ticket for $3.10, for an effective per-direction fare of $1.65.

3 Los Angeles offers no transfer discount even between multiple LA Metro rapid bus lines, but a rider on a Metro rail or bus line can transfer to a local municipal bus operated by one of the county's cities for 35¢.

4 Riders using the pay-per-ride MetroCard also get a 5% fare bonus when putting more than $5 on the card, making the effective fare for riders who don't have passes closer to $2.38.

5 The MBTA runs both commuter rail and Boston subway, so there aren't enough agencies to have an inter-agency pass as in other cities on this table. However, the commuter rail passes do offer free "T" subway and bus rides, so Boston does have a pass analogous to those that give a "Yes" for the other cities.

If you look at the 2nd column here, among these cities listed in the WMATA survey, taking the bus after a rail trip costs more here than in any of those cities. Three, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta all have a flat fare for a trip throughout the city, no matter whether it's on one train, one bus, or a combination (though in San Francisco, that's just MUNI light rail, not BART).

We're not necessarily the worst. If you ignore SF Muni's light rail for a moment, the San Francisco Bay Area has a regional rapid transit system (BART) that's very similar to the Metro, and both its base bus fare and transfers between BART and buses are more expensive. Los Angeles has no transfer discount at all between LA Metro bus lines, but its base bus fare (and rail fare, for its limited rail system) is much lower, so many riders are paying less there.

Don't forget passes

In addition, all of the listed cities have combined passes that offer rail and bus trips for a discount. Large numbers of commuters in these cities don't pay every time they ride the bus or train; instead, they subscribe to a weekly or monthly pass and get their transit free. WMATA has a bus pass that a lot of people use, but nothing for rail and bus users. WMATA has, in fact, has been very stingy about passes overall.

Many cities have inter-agency passes, such as Chicago, where you can get a pass for Metra commuter rail and also the L or bus in the city. MARC and VRE also offer passes for their tickets as well as Metro rail or bus; in fact, you pay less to add unlimited Metrorail and Metrobus to a monthly MARC or VRE ticket ($108) than to get an unlimited Metrorail "short trip" pass for 28 days ($140) which offers free rides up to $3.50 but no bus rides.

WMATA could certainly move to a system like other cities' where most people subscribe to transit rather than paying each time. It has a lot of advantages, like blunting the fare loss when there's a big storm, a federal government shutdown, or just the holidays. But every time the issue comes up, finance staff say they're nervous about the relatively unknowable financial impact of the change. (They also say that they need to wait for the next generation of fare systems).

That's in large part because discussions about changing fares only arise around a fare hike. If costs have risen a certain amount, then the agency needs to raise a certain amount more money, not revamp the fare system. But we never have the discussion during the off years, either.

Should bus fares go up?

Maybe bus fares need to change (or maybe not), but this survey is pushing the idea through remarkably misleading statistics. If the proposal is to raise the bus fare but at the same time make transfers cheaper, that is certainly an option. To compare the base WMATA bus fare to the one in other cities without any mention of the transfers or passes, however, does not give riders a fair picture.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Step one would be to determine how many bus to rail transfers there are. Without that, you are flying in the dark. Unless the bulk of bus riders transfer to rail, then your assertion is incorrect.

Even if you are correct, the solution is a simple adjustment to the transfer credit/fee between bus and rail, not leaving the base fare for DC buses the lowest of any major US transit authority.

DC bus fares have long trailed the rail fares, mostly because the Graham-stander has been screaming since the mid-late 90's about how all the poor people in his ward couldn't afford higher fares.

Now we are stuck with a bus system that has a 30% farebox recovery when you have the rail at more than twice that. Raise the fare, its only "fair".

by Bus Fare on Jan 7, 2014 1:41 pm • linkreport

This is exactly right, spot-on. Free transfers from rail-to-bus are a must. So, too, are variable monthly passes that would encompass bus and rail (and are also a good reason to switch to a zone-based fare system, so we don't all pay an insane amount for a monthly pass if commuting goes from say, Columbia Heights to Rosslyn).

I just switched jobs and now have to add the price of two bus rides to my daily commute (and the new employer doesn't offer SmartBenefits, so it's all on me now). I officially understand what everyone's been talking about: Metro is insanely expensive, especially for the service levels it offers. A reasonable monthly pass would go a long, long way.

by LowHeadways on Jan 7, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

I don't understand the assertion that Boston has "No inter-agency rail+bus pass." MBTA rail services as well as local and express bus services are included in most of the commuter rail passes (passes for travel that both starts and ends outside of Boston do not include rail service), and the only other rail agency in Boston is Amtrak (and based on the table's declaring both Atlanta and LA as having "No other rail," Amtrak doesn't appear to count for the purposes of the table.)

Could you please explain why Boston received a "No?"

by Ryan on Jan 7, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

If you have a MARC rail pass you get free WMATA bus trips, even those having nothing to do with your commute and including the airport buses.

The addition of Metro to a cheap MARC rail pass is cheaper than a flat Metro pass. It's dumb.

by Richard on Jan 7, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

I really liked Seoul's transit system. If you were going from bus to rail, or bus to bus then you got the following fare half price. It only gave you the discount on the initial portion of the fare, not the distance calculation added on later, so if the base fare was $2.10(like WMATA) then you would get $1.05 off, even if your trip ended up being $5.25 going all the way out to Shady Grove.

by Richard on Jan 7, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

Farebox recovery is not a good yardstick. Our farebox recovery for vehicles on 16th Street is zero. Our farebox recovery for trash pickup is zero. Our tuition recovery for the elementary schools is zero. Why is it important that a specific transit service pay for itself?

I have plenty of quibbles with Jim Graham, but his efforts keeping bus fares low were a great service to riders. The current WMATA board members are showing far less concern about riders.

by David Alpert on Jan 7, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

The problem with Graham's defense of low bus fares was that he wasn't similarly committed to low rail fares, creating a large disparity between the two.

Best solution would be to raise the bus fare to the same as the rail base fare, and at the same time raise the rail to bus transfer discount by the same amount. Better yet, raise the transfer discount to be the same as the base fare, so that you ride bus free after you've ridden rail, or you get the base fare free after you've ridden bus.

The monthly passes idea is of course a great one, too.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 7, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

Raise the bus fare and bump up the rail transfer discount to $1?

by BTA on Jan 7, 2014 2:37 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

That assumes people transfer from the bus, many don't. Why should people who wait out in the cold for a bus that comes every 30 minutes (perhaps) and takes twice as long to go half as far be paying the same price as a comparatively wealthy rail user on Metrorail? That just doesn't make sense any way you slice it.

by Adam Lewis on Jan 7, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

Correction: Same base price.

by Adam Lewis on Jan 7, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

Also based on my Giant at the begining of the month, all the really low income people are using bus passes.

by BTA on Jan 7, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

Ryan: I put "No" for that box for the MBTA because I couldn't find anything about this pass on their website. I found it now, but it's buried in a footnote.

I've updated the chart.

by David Alpert on Jan 7, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

Apologies for the digression but $2.50 for a crosstown bus in Manhattan is nuts, especially now that the Bolt and Mega stops have now been pushed practically into the Hudson.

by Steve S. on Jan 7, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

If the fare raise is accompanied by some forward thinking, starting at a minimum of BRT/signal priority/dedicated bus lanes along any main that currently doesn't already have a metro, then you're question is "do I think a subpar service should stay subpar but get more expensive?" which isn't a tough question to ask. Public transport is pretty lousy for DC residents (great for commuters!) so I'm more interested on what the long term plan is to change that then quibbling over fares.

by 11luke on Jan 7, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

I have no idea what you mean with "vehicles on 16th street". What vehicles?

Everyone in the District gets the same access to trash pickup (for which they pay for via taxes)Considering more than 62% of all the residential housing units in DC are in multifamily structures, those that are in structures of 4 units or more pay twice, once for the city services they don't get and another for private trash removal required of them. While you can petition on a yearly basis to get some minimal refund, I would venture the overwhelming don't so yes, I would say the "farebox recovery" of trash disposal is pretty damn high.

And most would argue that comprehensive education provides a jurisdiction a strong economic return, or lack thereof (as we see in DC) costs the same jurisdiction a lot of money.

Equating those two, with bus fare is an enormous oddity. Education and trash removal are provided for everyone, highly subsidized bus fare is not, as not every resident of the District takes the bus.

And lastly, I never said it had to pay for itself. We all know public transportation never has, nor ever will come close, but there is a lot of ground left to cover between a 30% farebox recovery and 100% farebox recovery and with the median income of a metrobus rider hovering around $65K a year, they can certainly afford to pay a little more.

by Bus Fare on Jan 7, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

+1 for 11luke. DMV is geared towards commuters (though still not very well) and not for DC residents.

by JDC on Jan 7, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

I'm pretty sure he was referring to cars on 16th street that are able to travel up and down the route without paying a toll or usage fee. 16th street doesn't pay for itself in that regard.

I'd also dispute the claim that having good bus service only helps bus riders. Absent bus service many people would be driving which would make traffic worse and the environment that much poorer.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2014 3:08 pm • linkreport

So Drumz...the so called poor people who can't afford another 10 cents on top of their base fare, are all of a sudden going to abandon the bus because of it, and be able to afford the thousands of dollars a year it would cost to own, even the junkiest of beaters? I think not.

And lets keep this on focus, without going off on some hilariously one sided tangent where every sf of pavement in the District should be tolled, while the rest of us continue to pay billions a year to subsidize your woefully underpriced transit ride to work shall we?

by Bus Fare on Jan 7, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

It's not billions. Several hundred million.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

@Bus Fare:
Equating those two, with bus fare is an enormous oddity. Education and trash removal are provided for everyone, highly subsidized bus fare is not, as not every resident of the District takes the bus.
This wasn't my analogy, but I'm not sure the distinction you see actually exists. I am currently ineligible for free public schooling due to my age, and I pay the same for trash pickup no matter how much trash I produce. These are paid for through taxes, not user fees like transit. I also don't pay any fee to use DC roads.

The point is: why is transit expected to be financed primarily through user fees, unlike pretty much every other service provided by the government?

You point out the large positive effects of providing public education. Similarly, you could make an argument that there are benefits to the government providing trash pickup. Is it so hard to imagine there being benefits to transit provision that would justify a farebox recovery rate below 100%?

by Gray on Jan 7, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

I'm not poor. I could afford to have a second car if I needed to. Instead I take advantage of the bus to get to work. If the bus disappeared tomorrow then I might go out and get that car and start driving it. I'm not the only person in this position either. Lots of people choose the bus when they have drivingas an option.

I'm also not arguing that 16th street should be tolled, I'm saying that it is currently usage-fee free. In fact, since Metrobus carries half of all 16th street traffic I don't think it'd be as effective as letting those buses have their own lanes. Surely not everyone riding those buses is so poor that they'd have no options for travel otherwise.

Anyway, even David said that he's not categorically rejecting a fare increase. The original thing he challenged was the claim that Metro's bus fares are lower than other cities and then your claim that we should measure bus effectiveness primarily by recovery rate.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2014 3:28 pm • linkreport

While DC has some crowded bus lines at peak hours, I assume like most transit system many bus lines even at peak hours, and most at off peak hours run with space for additional passengers. The incremental cost of an additional passenger is zero. Raising fares and reducing trips (even if it does not mean an additional car, but simply a trip not taken) is a suboptimal solution. Of course that assumes fixed frequencies - you could save money by reducing frequencies, but that introduces other cost benefit factors. And, yes, that applies to cars as well - its not necessarily rational to charge for use of UNCONGESTED roads.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 7, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport


How much does having a fare on a bus cost? That is if the bus was free, how much would WMATA save by not having to stock change, guard cashboxes, deposit and collect fares, wait for people to pay. Is it $.10 per ride, $.25 per ride, $.05 per ride?

Same question but for metro rail.

by Richard on Jan 7, 2014 3:50 pm • linkreport

This paper suggests an average of 6.1 cents/trip for heavy rail and 1.4 cents/trip for bus.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

@ Richard - good question. I think the issue is that some lines earn more money and thus subsidize the less busy lines. So, it might make sense for some lines to not have any fare collection because of the issues you mention because those lines earn so little money. But other lines do generate a lot (comparatively) so having them 'free' would be a big detriment. Of course having 'free' lines no one rides really doesn't help much.

by JDC on Jan 7, 2014 4:02 pm • linkreport

What is the reason that WMATA does not have unified passes when the did in the pass and has anyone ever asked why it is so ? I would love to hear the explanation.

Why no mention of express bus fares or other nearby transit Dash, Fairfax Connector, ART, The Bus, Ride On and everything in Baltimore ? In terms of bus systems in other large cities faraway Dallas, Houston, & Seattle should have been mentioned as this is a post about bus systems and theirs are quite large.

If an increase is need it should happen perhaps having the base fare of bus and rail the same. With that just offer free rail trips to bus riders that is the same or less than base fare and all rail riders get free transfer to all buses except for express routes. With express routes lets say $6.00 a rider would get free transfer with rail up to $3.00 in rail fare and anything above that comes out of the riders pocket.

If anyone knows please answer this.

How much is the lowest monthly fare on MARC that would get you the Metropass compared to buy a months worth of Bus and Rail Passes in the end is the MARC pass or WMATA passes lower ?

by kk on Jan 7, 2014 4:05 pm • linkreport


The jurisdicational contribution to WMATA's budget was $650 million last year. Add in the extra 150 million a year the feds give for cap improvements and we are at 800 million a year. Far closer to a billion, then a few hundred million.

by Bus Fare on Jan 7, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

Plenty of folks in the District are bus only people. In fact, one of the real bargains of the District is the unlimited bus transfers within two hours of the initial swipe. Enough time to get to and from the grocery store, the bank, and maybe even the house of worship. Does any other city has such a generous system? NY has one transfer only, right? At one time in Chicago the transfer slip was even marked with what direction you were headed and transfers where only allowed in that general direction.

by tour guide on Jan 7, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport


Justifying a poor policy choice because someone else does it too is not how you run a business.

Remember how you tell your 1st grader that "you wouldnt jump off a bridge because everyone else is doing it?"

If you do make you decisions based on bad practice, congrats, you're now in a race to the bottom.

by JJJJ on Jan 7, 2014 4:18 pm • linkreport

@ tour guide

That's not entirely true some trips to and from via the bus will take almost 2 hours especially on Saturday and Sundays when some buses run like s**t.

by kk on Jan 7, 2014 4:19 pm • linkreport

capital improvement dollars are not generally included in farebox recovery ratios.

the 650 million is for both modes and all jurisdictions (IE not DC only). that includes express buses in NoVa that are very much aimed at choice riders who would otherwise drive, and it also funds suburban local bus routes for the poor where buses routinely run below capacity, and the incremental cost of one more rider is hardly more than zero. Its far more than a "Jim Graham" issue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 7, 2014 4:20 pm • linkreport

The jurisdicational contribution to WMATA's budget was $650 million last year. Add in the extra 150 million a year the feds give for cap improvements and we are at 800 million a year. Far closer to a billion, then a few hundred million.

And yet also closer to "hundreds of millions" than multiple "billions."

by MLD on Jan 7, 2014 4:20 pm • linkreport

How much is the lowest monthly fare on MARC that would get you the Metropass compared to buy a months worth of Bus and Rail Passes in the end is the MARC pass or WMATA passes lower ?

It is cheaper to buy a $100 MARC pass($4 unlimited rides) and then tack on the $108 unlimited Metro Rail than it is to get the pure unlimited Metro Rail($230). So you are paying $22 for the right not to have to give MARC money(and losing the ability to take MARC).

by Richard on Jan 7, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

Lowest fare for MARC pass plus Transit Link I believe is $210 ($100 for MARC+$110 for transit link) which is marginally less than a Metro monthly pass at $230. I believe that is because MTA subsidizes the Transit Link portion of that fee.

by BTA on Jan 7, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

so its about 400 million for metrobus, IIUC. And whats DC's share of that, got to be less than half? So at most 200 million for DC metrobus.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 7, 2014 4:33 pm • linkreport

This paper suggests an average of 6.1 cents/trip for heavy rail and 1.4 cents/trip for bus.

Interesting, thank you.

I expect the numbers are higher now, 15 years after this paper's data was collected and perhaps higher in DC than the average.

I still would have thought it would have been more. For a bus driver for instance you have to have a system of trust and accountability to ensure that they are not skimming if you are collecting fares(I am not suggesting that WMATA drivers are skimming, but surely there must be some costs associated with this. In China, skimming from public transit fare boxes is rampant for instance) Maybe this was covered in the document but I didn't have time to more than glance through it.

by Richard on Jan 7, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport

We need free transfer among bus, rail and light rail.

As is, the current system reinforces the economic disparity of our region, rather than helping alieviate [I can't spell that] them.

Toronto also has free transfer and flat fare.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 7, 2014 4:59 pm • linkreport

The switch to exact fares required and no change given was driven by a desire to reduce skimming, among other things (let drivers concentrate on driving the bus, reduce robberies etc). Drivers do not have access to the money collected by the farebox; there are people in charge of fare collection who handle that. When theft does happen it is usually as part of a coordinated effort by the fare revenue team; this happened a couple years ago here in DC:

As a percentage of fares the level of spending is probably the same and may even have gone down as the use of cash has gone WAY down at transit agencies in the past 10 years. just in the past 5 years WMATA has gone from 20% smartrip usage on bus and 60% on rail to 90% of trips on both ( The report studied large transit agencies so I wouldn't expect DC to be higher than other agencies.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2014 5:09 pm • linkreport

This article assumes that a majority of bus riders take rail. This is likely far from the truth. (It would be nice if WMATA published real numbers)

As stated, most Metrobus routes (especially in the suburbs) terminate at Metro stations, but (from my observations at a number of stations) the majority of passengers actually don't transfer to Metro, but transfer to other bus routes instead. This is especially true in Montgomery County where local RideOn bus routes feed heavier/longer distance Metrobus/RideOn routes.

The other thing is that the difference of WMATA's bus fares compared to other major cities should theoretically mirror the difference of WMATA's rail fares compared to other major cities proportionally speaking. Even if the analysis provided is correct, and the bus fares are merely "average," the rail fares certainly aren't. It's not really equitable that rail riders are disproportionately burdened by fare hikes. Yes, on average they're wealthier than bus riders, but it's a myth that a large number lower income commuters don't ride Metrorail.

Not every rail commuter lives in a McMansion out in the 'burbs and parks his Lexus at the Metro to skip traffic on the commute to his/her cushy government job. This is especially true now with the growing impoverization of the suburbs. The rail/bus transfer shouldn't be increased, but neither should the rail fares (which are already insanely high). The fact that the Metrobus system has been drastically improving with new buses, technology, and services, while weekday Metrorail service is barely reliable anymore and weekend service is a bad joke underscores the point.

Also, while I don't know about VRE, MARC riders can ride any local bus in DC or Maryland free of charge with a regular monthly/weekly pass. The Transit Link Card is just for Metrorail.

by King Terrapin on Jan 7, 2014 5:10 pm • linkreport

One reason a lot of bus riders transfer to another bus, BTW, is because the rail fare is higher and they have to pay to transfer.

Michael Perkins' suggestion of essentially offering free transfers between bus and rail would probably encourage a lot of people to take rail, and they would get where they are going faster in many cases.

Best solution would be to raise the bus fare to the same as the rail base fare, and ... raise the transfer discount to be the same as the base fare, so that you ride bus free after you've ridden rail, or you get the base fare free after you've ridden bus.

by David Alpert on Jan 7, 2014 5:49 pm • linkreport

Actually, WMATA's base bus fare is cheap compared to most other cities. And that should be recognized and celebrated. As others point out, many people just ride buses, the service isn't as "premium" as rail, etc.

The issue of free transfer between rail and bus is altogether a different issue.

So too, the price of passes is a different issue.

Most other cities have free transfer between bus and rail--so long as the system is run by the same operator. DC doesn't even though it is the same operator. But e.g., there isn't free transfer between BART and MUNI, although there are some transfer options.

WMATA isn't really focused on maximizing transit use, or working so that transit integrates with urban life in a way that allows life without a car.

Plus it is more focused on income and satisficing budget vs. service within that context.

In an opposite paradigm, transit passes are much less expensive and transit use, from a cost standpoint, is made to be comparatively cheap. E.g., NYC or SF are perfect examples, although in SF there is the BART issue, although a monthly pass includes some use of the in-city BART stations.

As pointed out in the comments, MARC + the WMATA subway pass upcharge is almost cheaper than the standard full use WMATA rail pass.

2. As King Terrapin points out, WMATA's rail fares are significantly higher than all other subway systems in North America, with the exception of BART.

Part of the issue is that both BART and WMATA are hybrids, part subway for the inner city and part commuter railroad for distant locations.

I have been meaning to write a post about how subway fares are getting to the point where people won't ride without subsidy (like the Federal pass). (Granted MARC fares are underpriced and will be going up, but still, it's $5.30 during peak one-way to Metro Center from Vienna. It's $7 to take MARC from DC to Baltimore.

by Richard Layman on Jan 7, 2014 5:51 pm • linkreport

the thing about WMATA as a hybrid of subway and commuter railroad mirrors the hybrid of urban and suburban interests in owning and operating the system. The suburbs don't care to maximize the qualities of transit service that help DC and vice versa. Lower prices to encourage transit use and car free-car light living just aren't part of the suburban agenda, with the exception of Arlington.

The issue of urban vs. suburban interests in clearly demonstrated in proposals by WMATA for rail expansion. They are more focused on suburban needs, other than capacity issues in the core, and not expanding transit much beyond the current footprint within the city, which would be to the advantage of the city, which is inadequately representing its interests as it relates to transit expansion.

by Richard Layman on Jan 7, 2014 5:54 pm • linkreport


Thanks for your very thorough explanation of bus fares here and elsewhere. WMATA has a low bus fare if you only ride the bus but other major transit cities offer better deals if you use rail and bus.

by steve strauss on Jan 7, 2014 6:12 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman

Since WMATA acts as a hybrid couldn't DC request and pay for more service in DC to bring it up to Subway standards suchas on weekends when Metrorail runs about every 20 minutes.

Maybe DC should perhaps consider building a Subway system or Lightrail system (not streetcar)on its own and let Metrorail be a commuter rail system.

by kk on Jan 7, 2014 6:57 pm • linkreport

As someone else asked upthread, WMATA used to have a unified bus/rail pass (I remember using one in the 90s). If they could do it in 1995 (the cyber Bronze Age), why not now?

by aces on Jan 7, 2014 7:10 pm • linkreport

The best pass deal is a Zone 1 MTA bus transit link card, which gets you unlimited Metrorail + Metrobus + RideOn for $199.50. A much better deal than the 28-day rail-only WMATA pass for $230, though it is a pain to have to use a paper pass for a full month.

by Gray on Jan 7, 2014 9:20 pm • linkreport

Hmmm... there's something missing here.

Baltimore (MTA Maryland)
Bus fare (w/card): $1.60 (even w/o card)
Bus fare after rail (LR/Subway): $1.60 (single trip, free w/day pass)
Bus fare after other rail (commuter): FULL FARE FROM MARC
Rail+Bus pass? Yes (weekly/monthly MARC, day pass for bus to metro/LR)
Inter-agency Rail+Bus pass? Yes (see above, since MARC is part of MTA Maryland).

by STrRedWolf on Jan 7, 2014 9:50 pm • linkreport

kk -- I am not sure exactly what "DC" should do. First, I argue that the 31 of 42 stations in DC at the core operate as a kind of monocentric urban subway network within the greater subway network, and comprise DC's "primary" transit network.

I don't think that DC should build a separate network, but I do think that DC should not take a back seat to WMATA in terms of planning for transit expansion within the city, for the city, while at the same time addressing metropolitan transit issues.


Just as NYC is paying for a small extension to the 7 line to serve Hudson Yards, nothing prevents DC from funding serious extensions within DC... except for the ability to fund it.

The biggest reason that I support an increase in building height downtown is that the increase in property taxes would increase the city's financial capacity, which could be used to pay for subway expansion beyond the proposals that WMATA has put forward more recently (a truncation of the separated blue line proposal from 2002, a couple more yellow line stations).

Separated Blue/Silver Line

The original separated blue line proposal would have provided service past Union Station, providing more service to more parts of the eastern quadrants that are underserved now.

Later, in a graphic that David Alpert was kind enough to produce for me, I converted that into a separated silver line.

Brown Line (inner circle plus service to SE and National Harbor)

That diagram also depicts a hybrid inner circle "brown" line which was proposed by M.V. Jantzen in private email which I then converted into a blog entry and modified his original idea.

Michael's original conception doesn't include the ring into Georgetown that I proposed.

Separated Yellow Line

Dave Murphy's separated yellow line proposal first discussed in GGW, at first I was skeptical of, but now I see the value, especially if the very controversial step of upzoning along Georgia Ave. was able to move forward.

But for more value, it should probably be extended into Montgomery County, and they would benefit more from a line going out New Hampshire Avenue--but such an extension going into Fort Totten could be done by MoCo. But a New Hampshire based line wouldn't do much for DC.


There should be a yellow line infill station serving the National Mall/Jefferson Memorial. And I proposed a heritage streetcar line serving the National Mall area as well.

Interdicting suburban commuter traffic from Maryland

What the proposals don't do is speculate about extending subway service into Montgomery County and/or Prince George's County in a manner which further interdicts commuter traffic.

For example, taking commuter traffic off Connecticut Ave. or 16th St. or Georgia Ave. or Rhode Island Ave. or New York Ave. would be a good thing.

This is why DC needs a robust master transportation plan, but I don't think that's going to be produced out of the MoveDC process, because there aren't robust enough visions and frameworks undergirding the planning process and the separate elements. (The scenarios are pretty weak.)

Funny thing... I have been reading the 1950 Comprehensive Plan and it forecasted a 1 million population for DC by 1980. It also said that there wouldn't be enough population to support heavy rail service. The impact of the subway within DC (except on certain commmuter arteries) in terms of traffic reduction has been significant. And there is no way that Downtown could continue to be economically significant within the regional commercial landscape without subway service.


Again, the height limit increase is key. I can't believe how short sighted most of the city's stakeholders are in terms of recognizing the link between the height limit and building the financial capacity to expand and extend high capacity transit service in DC proper.

It's no different than what drove the consolidation of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens (and Staten Island and the Bronx) in the 1890s into one city. They needed the increased bonding capacity to be able to construct subways.

And without the subways New York City would not be the city that it is today.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 7:30 am • linkreport

kk -- from the 1950 Plan

The quickest mass transportation is a subway or elevated. An extensive subway system in Washington does not now seem feasible, because sound operation demands much heavier mass riding to support subways than present and future population densities would produce. Futhermore, the land-use plan aims at no material further concentration downtown, so that transit need not provide for a much heavier flow than at present. In addition, in Washington the transit flow branches out from the center in many directions, whereas subways require concentrations along a few radial lines.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 7:35 am • linkreport

It's all about that concentration. Which a height increase would support.

Of course, the suburbs wouldn't like it much.

The DC Council's sense of the council resolution on the height limit should have been titled "Strengthening Economic Development planning and positioning for Northern Virginia."

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 7:37 am • linkreport

Agreed, if DC was denser (at least outside of downtown) there would be more impetus to expand the system.

I'd also point out that we frequently talk about metro congestion in the core so should getting more people on rail be one of our primary goals? Maybe if there was someway you could discount rail trips that don't go into/through the inner core?

by BTA on Jan 8, 2014 8:44 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman
An extensive subway system in Washington does not now seem feasible, because sound operation demands much heavier mass riding to support subways than present and future population densities would produce. Futhermore, the land-use plan aims at no material further concentration downtown, so that transit need not provide for a much heavier flow than at present.

Jeez, this would fit right in with the newest report from WMATA about how they plan new subway lines. Totally agree that city stakeholders don't get how much the height limit and land use issues in general are holding the city back. Of course, people who are in DC now don't even realize that back in 1960, downtown DC looked radically different. No tall buildings - Metro created nearly everything that is here today.

by MLD on Jan 8, 2014 8:46 am • linkreport

Is it still possible to do an entire day of bus riding for one fare on a SmarTrip card as long as you board a new bus at least once every 90 minutes or so to "reset" the transfer window clock? I recall this being a bargain that likely should not have been as easy to do as it was.

by A. P. on Jan 8, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

A.P. -- I don't think the transfer clock is reset with each boarding. You get two hours from the initial fare. But I have never bothered testing it.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 9:36 am • linkreport

@ Richard Layman and @ David Alpert.

First of all, both of you know that I have a lot of respect for your opinions and analysis. I consider both of you in the think first then write category of bloggers. However, I have to come to WMATA's defense. Going back in history, WMATA actually had a requirement of a 50% cost recovery ratio for operations stemming from the fact that Maryland imposed that requirement and since WMATA was a multijurisdicitonal entity there was no easy way to have say a 40% cost recovery for DC and a 51% cost recovery for Maryland. Maryland actually got ride of its farebox recovery requirement for transit for several years, but bought it back with their gas tax increase bill in 2013. The point is WMATA from an early day, focused on recovering 50% of its overall costs from the farebox. Sure, Maryland may have dropped that requirement but because jurisdictions became used to and budgeted for subsidies at that level it became sort of a bureaucratic inertia.

With that said, WMATA has accomplished this high cost recovery primarily through the following. First, by not having free transfers between bus and rail. Second, they had rail passes which were hard to use and you guessed it not good on bus. Finally, WMATA recovers a high rail fares are distance and time based. WMATA is in fact the only heavy rail system in the country where rail fares are both time and distance based (BART's are only distance based).

As a long time regular rider (from 1998 to 2012), this techniques allowed for low bus fares compared to peer systems. At the same time, cost recovery was very high because of no free transfers and no real viable discounts for commuters with passes. This mdoel worked okay as long as rail ridership increased at a robust rate as it did during much of the 2000's. The economic recession burst that bubble. So what's happened since then?

1) The base rail fare has increased a lot
2) The base bus fare has increased somewhat and this only after Graham left the WMATA board
3) Discounts for adding high values to farecards were eliminated
4) Paper transfers were eliminated and with that intermodal transfers became two way (before, they were one way only from rail to bus) but the discount remained roughly the same
5) Both peak and off peak rail fares have risen at significantly above the rate of general inflation in recent years

The point is that the increase of rail fares above the rate of inflation (while holding bus fares down) to balance the budget is not sustainable. The last fare increase which hit off peak rail fares (which apply for all but about 45 hours a week) very hard and that combined with planned shutdowns/single tracking has taken a toll on off peak ridership. I would argue that the favorable labor settlement WMATA reached with the bulk of its unionized employees last year, was a result of the unions realizing that arbitrators would understand that rail riders weren't an ATM that could support a more generous arbitrated settlement than the negotiated one they reached.

The conclusion, is that bus fares really do have to go up. Metro has hit rail riders hard with fare increases and now it is bus riders turn. Bus fares will remain lower than that of peer cities. It is true, that bus passengers who also use rail will pay more? Yes, but unlike other cities a large portion of riders get transit subsidies or tax advantaged transit benefits. Does it suck to those who don't receive transit benefits from their employer? Absolutely, but there isn't much of an alternative.

For those arguing for more operating subsidies, please remember that for WMATA to implement their capital plans beyond 2018 will need additional local/state subsidies as the days of federal largesse are likely over. The real battle for transit advocates is to build the case for additional state/local capital investments in the WMATA system. Having a system which recovers a high proportion of operating costs (second only to New York among major systems with both bus and rail), actually helps bolster that argument. Think about, you have a system that charges high fares and its still bursting at the seams. That's a compelling economic argument for additional investment to increase capacity.

by Dharm Guruswamy on Jan 8, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

@Dharm Metro has hit rail riders hard with fare increases and now it is bus riders turn. Bus fares will remain lower than that of peer cities. It is true, that bus passengers who also use rail will pay more? Yes, but unlike other cities a large portion of riders get transit subsidies or tax advantaged transit benefits. Does it suck to those who don't receive transit benefits from their employer? Absolutely, but there isn't much of an alternative.

The alternative is to provide a useful, reasonable pass that covers bus and rail and doesn't cost an absurd amount of money. At some point you're going to get people sick of the fact that they pay out the nose to travel a relatively short distance while subsidizing the suburban choice park-and-riders.

And without commensurate improvements in service (still waiting for those 50s-lines recommendations to become reality), the absurdity of the fare system as it is will only continue to grow.

by LowHeadways on Jan 8, 2014 10:07 am • linkreport

Transit needs to be less expensive to benefit everyone. If you drive, then fewer folks are on the road around you and competing for parking spaces when you get where you are going.

Folks that work for larger employers have Metrocheck. This neutralizes them in the 'Metro is too expensive' debate.

It's vital to encourage folks that live in the out-lying areas to take transit. The alternative is wider roads and highways leading into a city replete with parking garages.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 8, 2014 10:21 am • linkreport

@ LowHeadways, you haven't articlulated how you would have a reasonably priced pass and still recover a high proportion of fares. Also, Metro's distance based fares and paid parking debunk you argument of subsidizing long distance commuters. The only thing, Metro could do is end the "cap" on distance based fares. However, that cap is paid for primarily by the suburban WMATA members so there's not much subsidy flowing from short distance commuters to long distance commuters.

by Dharm Guruswamy on Jan 8, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport


Zone pricing and passes that reflect those zones (and allow for unlimited bus and rail usage within them) is the ideal solution. The current price is suitable for Zone 1-7 pricing (or whatever we put Vienna, Shady Grove, Franconia, etc. into). For Zone 1-2, cap it at something like $150. Get what/where you pay for, and allow for pay-as-you-go for other trips as well.

Christ, farebox recovery. Maybe run more trains and buses and we can actually start to have capacity meet demand. Or run good service at non-peak times, thus getting people to ride (instead of not riding at all, which is what is happening now).

by LowHeadways on Jan 8, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

@ LowHeadways

We actually agree on the idea of zone pricing. If you search the archives, you will find comments of mine to blog entries arguing for zone pricing. @ Michael Perkins wants passes to be based on multiples of our super complex fare system like it is in Seattle. Like a tax system, you have to balance equity with simplicity and I think a zone system is a good compromise.

Regarding headyways, it is important to note that off peak headways have increased, during the "shoulders" before and after the peak periods. In addition, in my 15 years or so of riding the system, I've noticed off peak trains go from 4 car trains to 6 car trains. Alas, I don't think running more off peak service will generate enough ridership to offset costs. I agree with you 100 percent that it needs to be done, but it's something that will have to be partially subsidized.

by Dharm Guruswamy on Jan 8, 2014 11:00 am • linkreport

Dharm -- 1. thanks for the compliment. 2. We don't really disagree. 3. Thanks for your great comment.

I do see the need to increase bus fares just on the basis of the need for revenue. As you point out, I also think we are reaching the tipping point on rail fares.

The issue about the operating subsidy and recovery rate is a policy decision. I don't see the choice that has been made as terrible. HOWEVER, I do see this as an urban vs. suburban (in this case we include Arlington as urban) issue.

In the city, transit, if "ubiquitous" can support a sustainable mobility lifestyle comparable to walking+transit enabled living in Manhattan and certain parts of Queens and Brooklyn.

The basic polycentric form of Metrorail makes that impossible in the suburbs.

I discussed this once with Tommy Wells, and he made the very succinct response that to get more transit and have it be more affordable, there needs to be more subsidy provided. Of course, he's right.

But that's a DC (and Arlington) approach that doesn't make sense for the other jurisdictions, at least right now.

So we are screwed, because DC has really different priorities from the suburbs, or it should, if the Council and the Mayor truly understood the role of transit in the city's economic competitiveness framework and as a quality of life factor. They don't. E.g., rather than give up tens of millions in annual property tax revenues by subsidizing seniors, we could put that money into transit, etc.

Or as I wrote above about the height limit, which seems to be a point that only I seem to be making consistently within the advocacy sphere. (GGW writers express different positions than I, and I would argue it's somewhat incoherent, and doesn't make the right connection between transit, funding, and expansion.)

2. The price tipping point on Metrorail probably means that there needs to be a regional discussion about upping the subsidy provided by the jurisdictions.

3. And related to this is something that I have been writing since 2008 and the train crash. The Metro Compact was constructed in the 1960s. Most of those people are gone. It's time to revisit the process, assess the experience, and build a new consensus going forward.

Metro Momentum doesn't really do that, or at least not the way I would do it.

In such a process and discussion, we would address the funding issue.

This post, touches on this issue and includes citations to other posts made wrt points 3 and 4.

4. Separately I make a different point, that we need truly regional transportation planning independent of WMATA. We don't have it. By default, WMATA is the transpo planner at the metropolitan scale. But because of the requirements on them in terms of funding in the current agreement, they are forced to satisfice service for revenue.

Instead, I argue that a regional transportation plan should specify level of service, level of quality, and network breadth and depth.

The transit operators should then respond with the estimates for how much that costs.

And we as a region need to step up and provide that money.

5. Of course, the very different interests between DC and Arlington and the rest of the region won't be going away and will continue to contribute to tension on this issue.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 11:29 am • linkreport

If WMATA had a dedicated revenue stream, such as a regional sales tax, that would help to alleviate the need to prove maximum fare recovery to all the jurisdictions.

"We can't have passes because fare recovery!" is a short-sighted argument. I have to assume the bus passes are the most widely-used pass, that's because it saves low-income people money and they pay with their time by making multiple bus transfers and riding slow service for long distances. Not having a pass that combines bus and rail also means WMATA has to keep providing more expensive bus service because people prefer it to rail. If WMATA had passes that combined bus and rail, or smartpasses, or rail passes that made sense for many people, you make taking additional trips on transit a easier decision - it's free. That increases system ridership which will increase support for the transit system in general.

by MLD on Jan 8, 2014 11:52 am • linkreport

MLD -- I am always amazed at how much San Franciscans criticize the MUNI system, which is pretty awesome from the perspective of an ousider, although it's mostly light rail and streetcars and buses, not subway service. But it's quite a system.

And they have a great pass system. Now, I think transit passes are free for youths.

2. Someone who used to work out there, now out here made a point to me once that because unions are so strong in SF, that has helped maintain support for transit, because the transit unions are strong lobbyists for continued support.

(OTOH, they lobby more for bus service, which employs more people, than fixed rail.)

Here the union movement isn't that strong, but they could come out in favor of transit passes, as a way to strengthen support for the system.

3. But I don't think that having a well-priced pass would impact bus service as much as you think. Buses mostly go where rail doesn't.

But your general point about passes is correct. In a place like SF or NYC with a pass, you don't think so much about transit and its cost, you just use it, because it's convenient and cheap. (With the exception of the cable cars. You have to wait in line for so long, it's better to take the bus. But that service should probably be priced like WMATA's bus to the airport, as a premium priced service, because it is more a novelty, and the cost of providing the service is so high.)

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

I am always amazed at how much San Franciscans criticize the MUNI system

Because the critique isn't of the system,, but about execution: reliability, etc.

Read all about it:

by Alex B. on Jan 8, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

I'm amazed by how comfortable folks here are with the way WMATA divides the region by class and race. I might not have noticed it had I not ridden flat-rate systems in NYC and Toronto. Those systems unify their areas - ours separates people.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 8, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

NYC seems just as divided by class and race as metro DC is. I'm not quite sure what you're getting at.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 8, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

In NYC and Toronto everyone rides the subway. Not just the less wealthy, but even wealthy Manhattanites because it's the fastest way to get around.

Here, in Washington, the poorest cannot afford to ride the subway. They're on the buses - even those that follow the subway lines. The high cost of transferring is one reason they remain on the buses.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 8, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

Well I guess to make the metro as attractive to the "wealthy" (serioulsy, I think there plenty of very affluent Manhattanites who never take the subway - and some upper middle class folks from parts of Queens, etc) we would need express trains, and traffic as bad as Manhattan. I don't think that has much to do with the fare structure.

As for poor folks, I am pretty sure there are poor folks who ride the metro in DC. In NYC there are more poor folks who live walking distance to the subway and don't need to transfer from the bus. In fact most poor areas in NYC (in the bronx, brownsville, east harlem, etc) have subway service. thats a legacy of over a hundred years of history (both in the building subways, and building housing) not really about fare structures.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 8, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

Making Metro accessible to all is key, but round trip fares that exceed the hourly minimum wage and expensive transfers make riding Metro prohibitively expensive for too many people.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 8, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

@ MLD, I likely wasn't clear enough. Again, if you read my comments to other blog entries in the archives, you'd see I'm not opposed to passes. The only question is where to set the pass as a multiple of the regular fare. It varies from system, to system. For some commuter rail systems the monthly pass might be set a multiple of 15 (or even less) time the one way fare. In the case of Miami, the last time I checked the monthly pass was like 24 times the one way fare. The higher multiple, the more likely you are to serve the truly transit dependent versus just the regular commuter who uses transit to/from work but not for other trips.

My argument is to introduce a zone system for rail with monthly passes set a high price (say 24 x the one way trip) to appease any fears of revenue dilution by WMATA staff. Then you could go down on the mulitiplier until the statistics show revenue dilution from the use of the passes.

by Dharm Guruswamy on Jan 8, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman, regarding the suburb vs DC/Arlington split, it's something I'e also given some thought to. The place where it falls apart though is that if you look at the bus fares for the systems the suburbs operate, they are always the same or in many cases lower than Metrobus. In addition, the cost recovery of the suburban bus systems the last time I checked was also lower than Metrobus. I have to caveat my comment with the fact that it has been a couple of years since I compared fares and cost recovery, but it seems that the surburban jurisdictions have no problem providing subsidies for travel primarily within their jurisdiction. I realize that the lower fares and lower cost recovery are largely a product of the suburban landscape they operate in, but the suburbs willingness to heavily subsidize bus service (limited) is very high.

by Dharm Guruswamy on Jan 8, 2014 3:13 pm • linkreport

Alex B. -- one of the problems MUNI has is its revenue stream is continually raided by the Board of Supervisors/Mayor for other activities that may only be tangentially related to transit.

That being said, in terms of the availability of transit, the amount of the city it covers, the use of trolley buses (quieter, way quieter but used because electric motors provide better traction on tough hills), I'd be happy for a comparable system in DC. (Although something that would function better than their light rail.)

2. Dharm. Interesting point about the suburbs and bus subsidy. It will be interesting to see what happens as fixed rail surface transit is added to that mix.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 3:23 pm • linkreport

That being said, in terms of the availability of transit, the amount of the city it covers, the use of trolley buses (quieter, way quieter but used because electric motors provide better traction on tough hills), I'd be happy for a comparable system in DC. (Although something that would function better than their light rail.)

Hey, you asked why San Franciscans complain, and the reason is reliability.

Lots of cities would love to have a full-on subway like WMATA, but that doesn't stop (and shouldn't stop) people in this region from complaining about the quality and reliability of WMATA's services.

by Alex B. on Jan 8, 2014 3:30 pm • linkreport

note to Capt. Hilts -- TTC has the same issues as DC "versus" the suburbs in terms of transportation provision. The efforts to bring the subway to the suburbs and to kill the transit city program are about "subways are for everyone" (the name of one of the advocacy campaigns), which provides access to the suburbs, but at great cost, especially because ridership in the suburbs is so much less compared to Toronto's core.

A piece I read promoting the idea that Toronto should demerge back to the core made the point that TTC could then focus on where it works best.

Alex B. -- of course people should still be able to express their concerns. But there is the point about absolute vs. relative, and facts. The thing with your SF cites is that I could just as easily recount my 2012 experience with transit riding in SF which was fine in every instance, no witnessing of kludged repairs, etc.

OTOH, I could talk about their clearly highly addled and dangerous street people, one of whom spit on my father in law, and others, again, based on my experience.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 3:51 pm • linkreport

But there is the point about absolute vs. relative, and facts. The thing with your SF cites is that I could just as easily recount my 2012 experience with transit riding in SF which was fine in every instance, no witnessing of kludged repairs, etc.

That's an anecdote, however - not a dataset.

You asked why SF residents complain about Muni so much when they have a network that seems well designed. And I offered you an answer: their complaints have nothing to do with the network, and everything to do with the system's reliability.

Those are the kinds of complaints that you'll see from people who ride on a daily basis. I have no doubt that your 2012 experience was great (my Muni rides were fine the last time I was in SF, too), but surely you must understand how people who ride daily will have a different perspective and different opinions.

Regular riders in particular are going to be far more attuned to issues of reliability. Beyond just that, those SF weekly articles had plenty of hard facts on Muni's reliability stats.

by Alex B. on Jan 8, 2014 4:06 pm • linkreport

good point. But I also hear people complain all the time about cars always running through stop signs. I am on the road a lot more than the average person, because I bike. And I don't see it. It is anecdotal sure, but a lot of data points.

The thing about MUNI is that I was in North Beach, and the route and options redundancy there probably made the system more reliable for me than it might be in another part of the city.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

@ Dharm Guruswamy

Paper transfers have changed much more than you state.
You use to pay 35 cents when transferring to bus from rail and then after the switch to bus and rail transfers you pay $1.10 that is a giant increase.


@ LowHeadways & Dharm Guruswamy

Do you remember a few years ago before the peak of the peak how all fares in DC off peak were the lowest fare at the time or the 1 Day bus pass (which was a pink paper bus transfer)


Heres one thing to consider for everyone WMATA can make a pass if they wanted to take the SmartStudent Pass which is $30 and has unlimited travel on Bus and Rail in DC for a month. It last a month not 28 days like the regular Metrorail pass.

Whats stopping a jurisdiction from offering one of those for a higher price but cheaper than the current pass ? For example if DC wants lower prices why not let them subsidized a DC only Metrorail & Metrobus pass for 2 or 3 times the price of the student pass ?

The 1 Day Bus Pass was the best value (it was discontinued years ago); WMATA should atleast have a 1 Day Pass that works on Bus and Rail.

Does anyone here remember when the fare use to be $1.10, $1.20 or $1.35. The fares have been going up with absolutely no difference in service and in some places it has gotten worst over the years take the most recent changes in Virginia, which mind you were supposed to happen when the Silver Line opened but happened 3 months early.

What is everyone's opinion on charging more on MetroExtra bus routes instead of all of them ? I bet people would pay more for the 79, S9, 16X, 28X other Metro Extra routes also every single bus that uses 395, the 15K & 15L.

by kk on Jan 9, 2014 12:03 am • linkreport

@KK, you forget that after the switch to Smartrip only transfers, you get the discount both ways. So you get a discount of $0.50 off your Metrorail fare when you form Metrobus to Metrorail and vice versa for a total discount of $1.00 roundtrip. When there were paper transfers they were good only one way (from Metrorail to Metrobus).

by Dharm Guruswamy on Jan 9, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport

@ Dharm Guruswamy

I didnt forget I mentioned it "after the switch to bus and rail transfers you pay $1.10 that is a giant increase"

by kk on Jan 9, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

When the transfer discount was only one-way it was also twice the discount, I believe. When they went to Smartrip transfers they cut the discount in half.

by MLD on Jan 9, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

KK I don't see how it's relevant that there was an increase in one direction, when 99% of passengers travel round trip. MLD, If my memory is correct I think the discount actually increased by 10 cents roundtrip.

by Dharm Guruswamy on Jan 9, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

TRB's recent fare policy reports often point out that systems are generally moving towards cheap day passes -- priced at just over 2X the one-way trip -- and tightening up on transfers. Then again, transfer tickets are rapidly disappearing, since they're now often available only to those with smart cards.

@tour guide: in Chicago, two transfers within an hour include both directions, across bus & rail; I've timed many a trip so that my return clocked in 1h50m after I left home (with the return on rail so that I could make sure I cleared it). In Minneapolis, you get unlimited transfers within the two-hour window.

by Payton Chung on Jan 9, 2014 5:09 pm • linkreport

kk -- I don't feel like the MetroExtra bus service is so significantly faster that the bus ride on that bus has significantly more value.

I used to ride the QuickBus and the normal bus up Greenmount/York Road to and from Towson, until I got a Baltimore bike, and the express bus takes about 1/2 the time as the traditional bus. That seems worth paying more maybe. I don't feel like the MetroExtra routes provide an equivalent value.

by Richard Layman on Jan 9, 2014 5:44 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman @kk

Unless an express/"Extra" service is running in dedicated lanes, it really doesn't have an appreciable impact in run/journey time. Traffic is so bad everywhere that it certainly wouldn't be worth extra money without ROW.

by LowHeadways on Jan 10, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

Unless an express/"Extra" service is running in dedicated lanes, it really doesn't have an appreciable impact in run/journey time. Traffic is so bad everywhere that it certainly wouldn't be worth extra money without ROW.

It may not seem like a lot to passengers while you're riding the bus, but it does make a difference.

Compare the 70 to the 79:

70 timetable:
79 timetable:

To pick one departure at about the same time, the 70 leaves Silver Spring at 9:01 and is set to arrive at the end of the line at 9:52, 0:51 total time.

The 79 is scheduled to leave Silver Spring at 9:05 and arrive at the end of the line at 9:48, for a total time of 0:43.

Eight minutes might not seem like a huge deal, but that's a significant percentage difference. It shows what you can do with altered stop spacing.

It also shows the limit of a wider stop spacing - any other travel time improvements would need to address the running way (dedicated lanes, queue jumps, signal priority, etc) and/or fare payment and dwell times.

Now, I still wouldn't charge a fare premium for these routes. If anything, you want to encourage more people to use the 79, since the fewer stops and shorter run time make the bus more efficient, allowing Metro to provide the same level of service with fewer resources, freeing up more buses and dollars to use on other routes.

by Alex B. on Jan 10, 2014 10:02 am • linkreport

I don't think that many people will pass up a local bus along the Metro Extra routes in order to take the "express" bus. If they arrive at the stop at the same time or you can see the express coming, or if you are traveling the whole length of the line, then maybe. But otherwise people seem to get on whatever bus comes first. That indicates to me that the express service is not worth an additional fare charge.

by MLD on Jan 10, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

8 minutes isn't a big deal. 20 minutes (like on the Quick Bus 48) is.

More importantly, the issue isn't from Silver Spring, but from further down the line. People have to make a choice to walk from a stop serving the local service to a stop serving the express bus. The time involved getting to the express bus stop could be equal or greater than the time "saved" by riding the faster bus.

FWIW, granted I run lights when I can, by bike I can beat a 79 bus riding northbound on Georgia Ave., that is, uphill, from Rhode Island/Shaw to Petworth (after that, the hills get a bit worse and the bus has an advantage). Obviously the same goes for downhill, except I use a different route that takes me off Georgia Ave. southbound.

by Richard Layman on Jan 10, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

P.S. -- @ LowHeadways -- yep.

Interestingly, in this thread, earlier I quoted from the 1950 comp plan. The Comp Plan also opined on the value of dedicated lanes for buses...

Bus traffic would benefit from a well-planned thoroughfare system. Freeways and parkways would make possible express bus service to suburban areas almost as fast as rail rapid transit. Within the central area, however, bus operation is sure to be slowed down by auto traffic. The Commission nevertheless recommends gradual replacement of streetcars with buses. It urges study of traffic rules, to speed up bus movements downtown--perhaps setting aside certain lanes for buses only, or even prohibiting private cars and delivery trucks entirely on certain streets in the rush hours. Since a bus carries about 30 times as many people as an auto, it is fair and reasonable to delay as many as 30 autos in order to speed up each bus. The goal is to move people, not vehicles.

by Richard Layman on Jan 10, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

In the case of the Metro Extra routes I feel like they have gotten of track of the original plan. They were supposed to have supposed to have stops every 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile and that is surely not the case it seems like some of the routes have add stops over the years.

The stops aren't equal distance apart some stops are 4 or 5 blocks apart while others are about 1/2 mile. This can be seen when comparing the 79, X9, S9 & 28X. The 28X seems to stop at every stop people would get on and off from the 28A line so it has no real benefit so a 28A & X that are scheduled near each other are usually right behind each other in traffic stopping at the exact same stops especially between Falls Church and Tysons Corner.

When I take a bus that has a Metro Extra route I would tend to take both as most of the time I not going to a stop anywhere near a MetroExtra stop. I would take the MetroExtra for a few miles so i would be infront of atleast 2 or 3 regular Metrobuses than get out and wait for the regular bus to my destination.

by kk on Jan 10, 2014 12:54 pm • linkreport

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