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Topic of the week: Is the Metro fare hike fair?

The WMATA Board yesterday approved a fare increase, which will be effective July 1. Are the fare hikes fair?

Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

Metrorail fares will increase 3%, on average, and most Metrobus routes will now cost $1.75, no matter if you pay with cash or SmarTrip. Today, the buses cost $1.60 with SmarTrip, $1.80 cash. Parking rates at Metro lots will go up 10¢, except at some Prince George's County lots, which will cost 60¢ more.

Are the fare increases too great? Did WMATA make the right call with the specifics of the fare hike? Our contributors weigh in below. What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Michael Perkins: WMATA missed another opportunity to make their parking pricing make sense. They raise the rates universally by only 10¢, and put an additional 50¢ on most lots in Prince George's County, even though there's already a large east/west divide in ridership, and the PG County lots are less crowded than other parking lots.

For the 2016 fare update, WMATA staff should do their homework and get ready to implement something similar to BART. BART staff are allowed to periodically review and adjust the parking rates in their parking lots based on demand.

For the cash fare on bus business, I think WMATA made the right call. The cash discount was causing a lot of people to load one trip's worth on a SmarTrip card and then use it immediately just to get the SmarTrip discount.

Dan Malouff: Just to keep up with inflation since WMATA's last fare hike in 2012, fares should rise between 2-3%. The Metrobus hike is a lot, but the Metrorail hike of 3% is not much more than inflation. But even buses are matching inflation over the long term. A DC Metrobus fare in 1975 was 40¢. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $1.75 today.

Ben Ross: I find it very disappointing that WMATA has paid for lesser fare increases by cutting funding for bus priority corridors. It is very hard to take long-range plans for expensive "bus rapid transit" seriously if the area isn't willing to make modest investments in making its buses move more rapidly now.

Malcolm Johnstone: People are being priced out of using the subway and, now, the bus. Metro is too expensive—nowhere else in North America can you pay $10 round trip just for subway ride.

Malcolm Kenton: WMATA still needs to institute some form of daily, weekly and monthly pass that covers both bus and Metrorail. Nearly every other big city transit agency that operates both bus and rail offers passes that cover both. If a 7-day "short trip" rail pass is $36 and a 7-day bus pass is $17.50, perhaps a 7-day "short-trip" rail pass that also includes unlimited bus travel could be $50.00. Similarly, a 28-day rail-plus-bus pass could be $260.00.

It's interesting to note that the deal remains in place that allows those with current weekly or monthly MARC train tickets to ride local buses in both the DC and Baltimore regions, as well as the Baltimore subway and light rail, at no additional cost. At $175.00, a MARC monthly ticket between Baltimore and DC is a great bargain for those who also travel extensively within either metro area: the only other form of transit it doesn't cover is Metrorail.

Can WMATA's rationale for these hikes be tied directly to any change in federal funding, or to a change in any particular jurisdiction's share of funding? Or simply to declining ridership and/or increasing costs?

Michael Perkins: Even better than that, the MTA sells a zone 1 bus pass that's good on all WMATA services as well as service in Baltimore. The Transit Link Card is just a hair under $200 and is good for everything. It covers rail and bus. Unlimited everything, including zone one MTA commuter bus and all the MTA service in Baltimore too. I don't know that there are any restrictions. Someone should try it.

The thing is on autopilot. I don't think Metro staff or the board really look at it so it just goes up with inflation every year, even though the peak long distance rail fare has outpaced inflation for a decade.

Metro has some of the highest fares in North America. I think only the London Tube has higher fares in the world. On the other hand, the trains are bursting with people. The London Tube also has reasonable passes, unlike Metro, and a congestion charge.

Myles Smith: I was surprised how close Metrorail was to the actual per-rider cost, with taxpayers subsidizing the fares by only about 20%, was it? Metrobus was more heavily subsidized, something like 60% by taxpayers. And any discussion of it should compare these subsidies to those of public streets for private vehicles (a 100% subsidy).

Jim Titus: We should not have to revisit every policy question related to equitable burden sharing, simply to make annual adjustments to account for inflation. And for the most part, they didn't.

Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  


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The Copenhagen Metro has much higher fares than our Metro (in reference to the line about London being the only one more expensive). Traveling within the downtown zone (a fairly small area) requires you to buy a two-zone ticket, which is 24DKK (approx. 4.42 USD) for one ride. There is no one-zone ticket, so 24DKK is your base fare.

by Rebecca on Mar 28, 2014 10:10 am • linkreport

Interesting, Rebecca. It's been a few years since I last checked on world transit prices. Does Copenhagen have monthly passes available for the same zone?

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 10:13 am • linkreport

Wait, Denmark doesn't use the Euro?

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 10:17 am • linkreport

Myles Smith:

100% subsidy my ass.

Federal motor fuel tax.
State motor fuel tax.
Excise tax on tires, lube oil and replacement parts.
Motor vehicle sales tax and licensing fees.
Property taxes on properties adjacent to streets and roads, additional property taxes based on the value of the improvements (developments on said properties) adjacent to streets and roads.

by Sand Box John on Mar 28, 2014 10:18 am • linkreport

WMATA should remove the Savings Calculator from the site. The costs of driving are always debatable (especially if the car is owned regardless of usage), but for many people in the region even WMATA's calculator shows it can be more expensive to use Metrorail. Of course the rail commute can be much longer too.

Myles Smith, I don't believe those discussions of subsidies promote anything worthwhile. They just make things needlessly divisive. Those 100% public subsidized streets for private vehicles are not used solely by private vehicles. Also, buses service a much greater area than rail. All modes of transit are not created equal. Ideally, people have more choices.

by selxic on Mar 28, 2014 10:21 am • linkreport

It looks like if you buy a monthly pass (a "Periodekort 30 dage"), you can get 30 days for DKK360, which is about $1.65 per trip for commuting 20 days a month.

This is better than WMATA. And for that price you get unlimited trips.

The most expensive pass they have available is $190 per month.

When comparing prices of transit systems I usually compare the price of things that people who regularly commute would use, since the amount that transit systems try to screw over tourists varies so much.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

There is a limited pass -- 24 or 72 hours. Adult is 80DKK 80 for 24 hours (14.72 USD) or 200DKK (36.80 USD) for 72 hours. There are also 10-trip cards that are slightly discounted.

Stockholm's Metro is also more expensive than DC.

Even in Innsbruck, which is tram and bus, the base fare for within the downtown zone is 2 Euro (2.75 USD). If you're coming in from outside the downtown limits, the fare is 3.40 Euro (4.68 USD). If you're passing through downtown from outside to another outside point, the fare is 5.2 Euro (7.15 USD).

Of course, the service in all of these places is far superior, but you do pay for it. And they generally don't discriminate between modes of transportation for price -- one price per distance or zone, whether it's on bus, tram or transferring.

by Rebecca on Mar 28, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

Like many European systems, Copenhagen Metro has expensive single-ticket prices but there are very steep discounts if you buy a ten-trip pass.

by MLD on Mar 28, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

Michael, the guidelines to buy the monthly pass are strict, and it can be difficult to get.

by Rebecca on Mar 28, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

How strict? If I were a resident of the local area and worked in Copenhagen, would that be enough?

When my wife lived in Spain she bought an annual pass which required getting a photo ID, but I think it was only the equivalent of about 500 dollars.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

I often use a similar method when comparing prices of tickets for sports events, Michael Perkins. I compare the season ticket prices instead of the individual game day ticket. You're walking distance to East Falls Church(?) though. For many people, the parking cost and base fare are the true base price. How do the parking prices compare when looked at as part of the same service instead of trying to equally value them all as parking in the busiest areas of the region?

by selxic on Mar 28, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Denmark still uses Kronor(sp), its one of a handful of countries like the UK that didnt adopt the Euro.

by BTA on Mar 28, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Michael Perkins: Denmark does not use the Euro. Like the UK, it is part of the European Union but retains its own currency.

by richie on Mar 28, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport


by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport

Zurich was also pretty expensive though everyone there just buys monthly or annual passes at discoutned rates. The per ride was something like $4 base fare though.

by BTA on Mar 28, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

I seem to recall Toronto base fare is rather high too, maybe $5?

by BTA on Mar 28, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

The Transit Link Card can only be added onto a MARC/VRE/Commuter Bus ticket, but the cheapest combo is TLC+MARC from New Carrollton to Washington.

MARC: $100
TLC: $111
Total: $211

WMATA's version: Rail $237, Bus $70 (4 7 day passes)

Savings: $96, or 31%.

by Sunny on Mar 28, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

The parking rates are really unfair. PG plaza is never full, never even 50% full and they are raising the price $.50. Vienna is always full and they are raising it $.10.

3% rail seems to be just inflation.

Paratransit rates going down....I know they are some of the most dependent on the system, but it keeps looking like Metro is being built and subsidized more and more for them at the expense of 98% of the ridership.

by Richard on Mar 28, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

Won't PG see a $.60 increase ($.10 + $.50), Richard?

by selxic on Mar 28, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

To answer my own question.
Parking rates at Metro lots will go up 10¢, except at some Prince George's County lots, which will cost 60¢ more.
I re-read Perkins quote instead of the opener.

by selxic on Mar 28, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

I thought I've read that WMATA doesn't sell many monthly passes. If true, why raise the price? I guess it's simply screwy pricing logic like their parking pricing that people here have pointed out many times.

by jh on Mar 28, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

'I seem to recall Toronto base fare is rather high too, maybe $5?'

Base cash fare in Toronto is $3 and entitles you to a transfer from rail to bus to streetcar. I do believe there is a time limit on the transfers however.

by CyclistinAlexandria on Mar 28, 2014 11:46 am • linkreport

You can buy a transit link card attached to a zone 1 commuter bus pass, which is just under $200.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 11:47 am • linkreport

WMATA sells monthly (actually 28-day) passes for $237. They only work on Metrorail, so they're not valid for anything on bus. This is something I think should change.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

No discussion about labor costs?

IIUC increased labor, pension & health care costs are almost entirely responsible for not just this fare increase but the 2 previous ones as well.

So is it fair that only riders take it on the chin and not WMATA employees who just received cost of leaving raises that no one else in the Public Sector (and few in the private sector) has received in the last 6 years and those same employees receive health and retirement benefits that many riders can only dream of.

And yes I'm aware there was a modest concession from employees to start contributing to their pension plans but even that leaves them as outliers in employee benefits in this area.

Am I the only one fed up with WMATA being treated as an employee benefit corporation instead of a transit agency where the needs of riders are paramount?

If I sound cranky its because it is hard for me to find reasons to feel good about the surly WMATA staff I deal with every day, most of whom already make more money than I do, getting another raise on my back.

by Aldo Kelrast on Mar 28, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins: Additionally, they aren't compatible with SmartBenefits, and they don't even bother to make them an actual monthly pass instead of four weeks. Clearly, WMATA has no interest in anyone actually buying a monthly pass.

So when the Silver line opens, I'll go back to buying a TLC+commuter bus pass for $200 a month. I'll have to use a paper fare card that tends to lose its magnetism in a few weeks, which is obnoxious, but otherwise it's better than any other option.

by Gray on Mar 28, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

@Aldo Kelrast: Precisely. I object to the fare hike, like I objected to the last one. Whether it's distributed fairly or not, I'd argue that it's not fair in the least given the paucity of decent service. I expect to get what I pay for, and what I pay for with Metro is light-years away from what I get. It's pathetic.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Mar 28, 2014 12:18 pm • linkreport

These increases don't seem especially onerous. This is a useful historical document:

I, for one, support the unified fare for smartrip/cash on the bus. The higher cash fare could have actually been considered a regressive pricing scheme - the poor are less likely to use smartrip cards, I imagine (guessing here).

Anyway, assuming the bus fare of $1.60 was the "old fare," the increase to $1.75 is a 9.3% increase, which seems steep in percentage terms. Bus fares were last raised in July 2012, from $1.50 to $1.60. Inflation from July 2012 (according to CPI-U, seasonally adjusted) to Feb 2014 was 2.8% - by the time July rolls around it will be 3.1% ish, most likely. The bus fare increase is triple the inflation rate since the last increase.

The 3% increase in rail fares will be pretty much in line with inflation.

by Nick on Mar 28, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

The WMATA passes are compatible with smartbenefits.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins: Great news! (as of this month)

But they still don't line up with the time period for SmartBenefits, for no good reason...

by Gray on Mar 28, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

Mr. Johnstone's complaint about the subway fare in DC forgets the reality that Metrorail is a blend of subway and electric commuter railroad. How do Metro's fare's compare with BART, the closest equivalent system.

by Mr. Transit on Mar 28, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

Malcom Kenton: If a 7-day "short trip" rail pass is $36 and a 7-day bus pass is $17.50, perhaps a 7-day "short-trip" rail pass that also includes unlimited bus travel could be $50.00. Similarly, a 28-day rail-plus-bus pass could be $260.00.

No, no, no. This is the entire problem with WMATA's thinking. That price is INSANE for anyone who lives in the core and could actually use a monthly pass for discretionary non-commuting trips. It's equally insane that the current pass only covers rail.

What WMATA actually needs is a monthly shorter-trip bus/rail pass in the $90-120 range (like every other peer system in the country offers). Keep that expensive one for the long-distance, park-and-ride commuters, and offer something useful for those of us who might get around our own city on the weekends or in the evening.

And at the very least, the fact that the transfer policy wasn't even mentioned is crazy. Rail-to-bus should be a free transfer. Bus-to-rail should discount the rail fare by the amount of the bus fare ($1.75 now). For me to get from U Street to Rosslyn - a 50s bus to the BL/OR for 3 stops - now costs nearly $7 a day, and that is absolutely unacceptable.

by LowHeadways on Mar 28, 2014 12:40 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins: What did you mean when you said, "Someone should try it" ? Anyone, regardless of where they live, can buy a 1-zone MTA commuter bus monthly TLC pass for $199.50 from CommuterDirect:

I've gotten them through my employer using WageWorks before. I tried to buy one at the Commuter Store in Rosslyn once but all they had were the MARC TLC passes, which are a bit more.

I used it on Metrorail (no problem until it demagnetized), Metrobus (most drivers were dubious, though some had seen it before), and RideOn (about the same as Metrobus). Annoyingly, it wasn't good on Fairfax Connector, but once the Silver line opens up that won't be a problem for me--I'll no longer have to go the last few miles to work on FFX Connector.

by Gray on Mar 28, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

Thanks, Nick. Basically the fare has kept up with inflation. That sounds about right to me.

I always wondered about the MTA pass price differential, I suppose Maryland must subsidize it?

by BTA on Mar 28, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

$79.50 for a monthly pass on the STM in Montreal. $3 one ride. $5.50 for two.

No, WMATA's prices are ridculous.

by Redline SOS on Mar 28, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

With parking going up by 50 cents for all but three stations, its odd that WMATA says the price is going up at "selected stations" in the county.

by JimT on Mar 28, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

I think they should raise the maximum fare, for someone who might decide to commute from Reston to Shady Grove or Greenbelt, $5.75 is a real bargain compared to my $4.05 to go a quarter of that distance.

by Richard on Mar 28, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

@Richard: The maximum fare is specifically paid down by the jurisdictions (the jurisdiction of residence pays the difference between the real fare and the capped fare), so that's a decision mostly made by Montgomery or Fairfax to have the maximum fare capped at that level.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 28, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

I think they should raise the maximum fare, for someone who might decide to commute from Reston to Shady Grove or Greenbelt, $5.75 is a real bargain compared to my $4.05 to go a quarter of that distance.

It's a bargain in terms of fare compared to your trip. Not exactly a bargain compared to driving (parking is probably free at their job in Shady Grove or Greenbelt). That's part of the reason why there is a fare cap.

The second is that so few people take those long trips that the revenue raised probably wouldn't offset the people who would choose another mode.

by MLD on Mar 28, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

Michael Perkins also makes a good point.

by MLD on Mar 28, 2014 1:35 pm • linkreport

Also end line ridership is lowest and if you are traveling that far a significant portion of it is probably reverse of peak. I think the maximum fare should be whatever is the end of the line to downtown.

by BTA on Mar 28, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins:Denmark doesn't use the Euro?

No. When the treaty of Maastricht, that changed the EEC into the EU and kicked off the euro, was signed, Denmark had a wave of euroskepticism. They managed to hang in there by semi-opting out of the euro, together with noob Sweden. Later, Danes rejected the euro in a referendum.

It is a little known fact that ALL EU member states MUST adopt the euro. It's just that there is no time-line. New members are supposed to be working towards entry in the euro. Smaller countries tend to actually do that. Others, like the Poles are taking their sweet, sweet time. Denmark, Sweden and the UK don't have to do that.

Danes and Swedes waver a bit on the subject and will join at some point. Both crowns are tied to the euro anyway, so there is no pressure for them. Other than getting rid of the bureaucratic hassle.

The UK does not want to join the euro. That's all fine, since they're nowhere near qualifying. Oddly, it is costing them dearly not to be part of the euro. Somehow their national pride makes them blind for that.

by Jasper on Mar 28, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

Toronto has discounted all-access monthly passes.

You also get a discount on the base fare if you purchase ten rides.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 28, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

I have co-workers who live in the suburbs who would need to use a park and ride to get into the city by metro. They say the cost of parking plus metro is more expensive than the cost of driving all the way and that driving saves them 20 minutes.

If you really want to increase mass transit use into the city and decrease single occupancy motor vehicle use, the costs of the two cannot be comparable, or else people will continue to use their personal vehicles. Based on that alone, I don't think increasing the fares and fee's is a good idea at all, even if based on inflation it makes sense to do so. If there are empty park and ride lots in Maryland, increasing the fees is only creating a greater incentive to drive.

by UrbanEngineer on Mar 29, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

The current fare system encourages long distance commuters - the very people we WANT to STOP - to continue to drive instead of to take transit.

Metro provides huge DISincentives to these people to take transit.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 29, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

I agree with UrbanEngineer and Capt. Hilts: long-distance commuters produce the most carbon dioxide, consume the most fossil fuels, and they drive through--and impact--every community between their homes and their work.

Metrobus from Greenbelt to Greenbelt Station and then Metrorail to Brookland is 9.40/day. @21.5 working days a month, that's $200/month, let's say. A 3 zone monthly Paris Navigo pass (which includes Metro, bus, commuter rail, and regional train and covers a similar distance), is 86 euros or about $120. A Toronto multi-mode monthly pass for the entire system (and that goes further out than Greenbelt) costs $CDN 133.75 or $122 if you subscribe for a year.

Compared to these cities, Metro is about 50% overpriced, which is a lot. I don't have data to back this up, but my sense is that long-distance Metro ridership is declining faster than Metro ridership as a whole. Unlike the expanding population in the urban core, long-distance riders almost all own cars and often have access to free, convenient parking at both ends of their journey.

by Used2RideMetro on Mar 29, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

Toronto Transit fares [all modes free transfer]:

Tokens are sold in various quantities.
3 tokens for $8.10
4 tokens for $10.80
5 tokens for $13.50
7 tokens for $18.90
10 tokens for $27.00
20 tokens for $54.00
50 tokens for $135.00

Senior/Student tickets are sold in multiples of five or ten.
5 tickets for $9.25
10 tickets for $18.50
Child tickets are sold in multiples of ten for $6.00.

TTC Metropass:

You can buy a Metropass for unlimited (Extra fare required for Downtown Express routes or contracted routes operated by the TTC outside the City of Toronto.) travel in a specific month on all regular TTC services

**Adult: No Photo ID is required. You can lend your transferable Metropass to family or friends when you are not travelling with it.**

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 29, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

TTC's weekly pass is $39.25 for an adult.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 29, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

Capt. Hilts,

...Or 122-133.75/month, as I point out above. It's a big discount.

by Used2RideMetro on Mar 29, 2014 5:13 pm • linkreport

I can see the slogan now. "Washington Metro, Less expensive than Copenhagen, Innsbruck, Stockholm, and London" *

*note: Depending on exchange rate. May not include passes, discounts, etc.

by Used2RideMetro on Mar 29, 2014 5:26 pm • linkreport

I have co-workers who live in the suburbs who would need to use a park and ride to get into the city by metro. They say the cost of parking plus metro is more expensive than the cost of driving all the way and that driving saves them 20 minutes.
If you really want to increase mass transit use into the city and decrease single occupancy motor vehicle use, the costs of the two cannot be comparable, or else people will continue to use their personal vehicles. Based on that alone, I don't think increasing the fares and fee's is a good idea at all, even if based on inflation it makes sense to do so. If there are empty park and ride lots in Maryland, increasing the fees is only creating a greater incentive to drive.

The difference in cost is certainly a factor.

However, we shouldn't assume this is due to transit being too expensive; we can easily make the case that driving is too cheap. Particularly when we're dealing with congestion, that suggests that we are not charging the right price for the use of limited road space.

The other challenge is that potential riders that have no choice but to use Metro's park and ride lots are not going to be a market that can easily scale. Park and ride transit is essentially trying to graft transit onto a suburban, transit-unfriendly land use pattern. And given those land use patterns, it's not a big surprise that your co-workers choose to drive.

The goal should be to get more people to use transit, not necessarily to make sure that your co-workers that need park and rides use transit.

That said: yes, if park and ride lots are empty, then by all means we should lower the price for parking there - in the short term. We should also start working on taking those park and ride facilites and redeveloping them into dense, walkable urban developments that will provide complimentary land uses for the transit system.

by Alex B. on Mar 29, 2014 5:50 pm • linkreport

@ Aldo, please get off your soapbox about labor costs. There's little WMATA can do over the short term. Do you ever wonder why there are no strikes on WMATA? There aren't because strikes are prohibited by federal law, but the flipside is that so is mandatory binding arbitration if there is a impasse. The arbitrators have in the past during impasses ruled that as long as WMATA can get money from the riders then everything is fine because under the law they have to protect taxpayers and labor, but not riders.

The last two rail fare increases were a real eye openor, because combined with the varying federal transit subsidy have led to flat or declining ridership. It signaled the end of using riders as an ATM, and WMATA's latest labor agreement with it's largest union (ATU) was negotiated not arbitrated. Union members will be ponying up towards their pensions for the FIRST time and that's a good thing.

Still to expect labor to "give up" what they earned is a longshot as is expecting the law that governs arbitration to be changed (it hasn't since it was implemented).

So please, get off the soapbox about WMATA wages and benefits, they aren't changing.

by Arlington Traveler on Mar 30, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

To those pointing out that long-distance fares in Europe are lower and more affordable, the fact is that those cities have a mostly reversed makeup from American cities - higher-income people live closer to the center and lower-income people further out. Things are changing here but in DC it is mostly true that the suburbs are higher income communities.

Increased labor and healthcare costs are the reason for the fare increase? Well, duh. People expect pay increases (though I think they could be lower) and labor costs (people) are a huge part of transit costs.

by MLD on Mar 30, 2014 12:49 pm • linkreport

One thing that seems to be left out of this discussion is the transit benefit ($130 monthly) for federal workers who account for a very large percentage of Metro's ridership (especially during peak hours). Along with lower than projected ridership (from track work and unscheduled delays) the drop in the benefit was cited as the reason for Metrorail's $20 million budget gap in FY13.

I'm guessing the importance of the transit benefit to WMATA's bottom line is influencing many of its decisions regarding weekly/monthly unlimited passes, parking and fare hikes.

It is also probably influencing how people use the Metro - perhaps they are switching from the rail to the bus because it's cheaper, not using either service as much (perhaps they are driving, carpooling or teleworking). Perhaps WMATA believes that many of its riders can stomach the increase because their rides are already directly subsidized.

by Scoot on Mar 30, 2014 5:38 pm • linkreport

The federal transit benefit also serves the purpose of taking a huge percentage of transit riders out of the transit fare debate.

I hate getting off at Capitol South knowing I'm among the few paying the full fare.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 30, 2014 5:39 pm • linkreport

WMATA prices are, without hyperbole, some of the highest in the world. As others here rightfully point out, in places like London or Denmark where prices are high on a per-trip basis, locals can save mega bucks by purchasing monthly or annual passes -- also travel concessions (discounts) are prodigious for kids, seniors, students, etc.

For $200 USD (at the current exchange rate)/month, you have unlimited access to all London Underground service within Zones 1/2, all London Overground service within Zones 1/2, all London commuter trains within Zone 1/2 (for example, sometimes it would take me forever to go from Waterloo to Wimbledon on the District line tube, but then I discovered I could take a commuter train leaving more frequently than Metro at many times of the day for the SAME price and cut my journey to 1/4 of the time), and let's not forget that your $200 also includes access to one of the world's great networks of buses, mostly operated in bus-only lanes, and with headways (yes, headways) more frequent than most of our Metro lines. If you buy an annual pass, your price falls to $174/month.

And, yes, Zones 1/2 don't cover all of London, but it's a MASSIVE area, like comparable to the entire coverage of all of Metro and beyond. Throw in Zone 3 and you get to $235/month (less, again, if you buy the annual pass). And, yes, you still get every commuter rail service, every tube, every bus, and every overground.

Bus-only passes are more expensive in London than a bus-only pass in DC, but the difference is that you can get around all of metropolitan London, albeit slower than the tube, on a bus-only pass. And you won't be taking taxis or "Ubers" at night, because of the strong network of night buses, which are included in all of the aforementioned passes.

Yes, yes, yes, DC is not London. DC is a much smaller city. DC does not have a congestion charge, London has a congestion charge.

But, still, Metro is really freaking expensive and it's crazy that the riders don't openly revolt considering the quality of service provided, both bus and rail.

by James on Mar 31, 2014 9:42 pm • linkreport

By comparison to London (above), a 28-day (28 days?!?! Every month is a 28-day February? What the heck?), Metrorail pass costs $230/month for insane headways, no bus service, no MARC, no VRE, no Circulator buses.

For those who have never lived/visited London, headways on the London Underground are about 3/5 minutes per train...on Sundays! About 90 seconds during the rush hour.

by James on Mar 31, 2014 9:49 pm • linkreport

James, I think you are picking and choosing a fare type (monthly pass) that makes London look cost effective.

Let's look at London's single use fares:

Zone 1-2 Tube fare:

Cash (paper ticket): £4.70 = $7.78 (ouch!!!)
Oyster (smartcard): £2.80 peak and £2.20 off peak = $4.66 and $3.66 respectively

Zone 1-2 Bus fare:

Cash: £2.40 = $3.99 (ouch!!!!)
Oyster (smartcard): £1.45 = $2.41 (ouch!!!!)

The point I'm making is that picking only the monthly and annual passes, you are picking and choosing only those fares which are affordable. In fact, London fares for those paying cash for single rides pay the highest or amongst the highest fares in the world (and I was in Tokyo in 2012). Even those using their smartcard (Oyster) to pay for single rides are still paying very expensive fares. The reality is that WMATA works well for those who use only one mode, rail passengers going a short distance, those paying with cash, or don't ride often enough to make a pass worth it.

If you try and institute passes and try and make them revenue neutral, single ride and cash fares would have to go up significantly to make up for the lost revenue from the discount offered on the passes. By doing so, you are picking winners and losers.

The current fare system is not perfect, but I must ask those who continue to whine about having to pay multiple times on different operators/modes, are you asking that all riders pay more so those who transfer modes or operators pay less? Finally, for those who say that fares need to be integrated and cheap to have a world class transit system, please go to Tokyo. You even pay to transfer between the two subway operators not to mention differing fares among the myriad of public and private commuter/monorail/bus operators. Fares are not cheap in Tokyo unless you are going a short distance, and still their public transit system is the envy of the world.

by Arlington Traveler on Apr 2, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

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