Board debates 3 am, $4 flat fare, parking charges and more
At yesterday's meeting, WMATA Board members finally got down to the brass tacks of negotiating over individual fare increases and service cuts. Various members spoke up about late night service and fares, parking fares, and bus-rail transfers.
Jim Graham focused his advocacy on the late night service. He argued for preserving the current 3 am closing time, instead of 2 am as proposed by the General Manager.
He also criticized the suggested $4 flat fare for late night, saying that short-distance passengers would just take taxis instead. (And who said Graham is in the pocket of the taxi drivers?) The MRO/GGW/CSG letter also recommended dropping the $4 charge and replacing it with "regular" (peak) fares at those times.
To offset the cost, Graham suggested raising the peak-of-the-peak from 10¢ to 20¢, which then triggered the longer peak-of-the-peak discussion. He also suggested raising the maximum fare the same amount as other fares (15%), though CFO Carol Kissal replied that just the 10¢ peak-of-the-peak increase would raise enough to cover Graham's requests.
The Fairfax members, Jeff McKay and Cathy Hudgins, both spoke up for removing the parking fee increases. The General Manager has proposed 50¢ per day and $5/month for reserved parking. I sympathize with this impulse, since many lots are not full. However, some are. Also, many trains and buses are not full, yet those fares will rise.
The MRO/GGW/CSG letter called for raising prices only on those stations with heavy demand. Some staff comments suggested this would be too complex to analyze in time for this fare increase. However, we've been asking for this for six months now if not since last year. If it's too late now, how about the Board ask staff to lower parking rates, but also ask them to start analyzing possibilities for more station-targeted parking?
McKay suggested paying for this change by lowering the bus-rail transfer to 25¢ instead of 50¢. That's the wrong approach. As it is, bus-rail transfer passengers are paying even more in this fare hike, with both bus and rail fares rising substantially. The Riders' Advisory Council strongly recommended increasing the transfer, not decreasing it. The hearing docket included a proposal to raise it to 75¢.
As Matt Johnson tweeted, "WMATA should be encouraging riders to come by bus." He also suggested thinking of parking as a "car to rail" transfer. The way McKay was talking about it, he was suggesting eliminating "discounts," as if the bus-rail discount was a sort of favor to bus passengers. In many cities, like New York, bus to rail transfers are completely free. Here, Orange Line to Green Line transfers are free. We actually charge extra to switch modes, and shouldn't be making it even more expensive.
The Board also debated widening the peak-of-the-peak time period to 2 hours instead of 1½ hours. Kissal said that would raise about $3 million more. However, Interim GM Sarles said it wasn't feasible for a reason that I couldn't make out listening to the (often too-quiet) audio stream.
But such a proposal misses the point of the peak-of-the-peak: to both raise revenue and also provide an economic incentive for people to ride at less busy times. 1½-hour is already a bit too large. The rail system is really particularly crowded for about an hour. Advocates didn't push for narrowing this because we didn't want to cut out too much revenue, but if it might get raised to 50¢, we should look at that.
Staff should evaluate the revenue impact of the 50¢ core-only peak-of-the-peak for only one hour. If that's enough to raise the money proposed, WMATA should confine it to the busiest hour.
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