Metro isn't the NYC subway, part 2: Don't forget transfers
The Post's Sunday editorial says that Metrorail fares are subsidizing bus fares. It points out that in places like New York, people pay $2 or more for a bus ride, compared to $1.25 for a SmarTrip bus ride here.
It's true that bus fares are very low, and as Michael Perkins has pointed out, they haven't kept pace with inflation. Michael said that a $1.50 bus fare would bring them back in line with inflation, and sure enough, that's just what WMATA plans to do. But the Post says, "It's not enough to bring Metrobus in line with other major transit networks."
However, saying that New Yorkers pay $2.25 for a bus ride only explains half the issue. New Yorkers also get to ride the bus for free if they also ride the train. That's because the $2.25 fare in New York includes a free transfer. Many riders take a bus to the subway, and here, many people take the bus to Metrorail as well.
If a rider takes rail and bus, Metro still charges the rail fare plus a bus fare, with only a 50 cent credit for the transfer. Therefore, while a rider who only uses the bus only pays $1.25 (soon to be $1.50), a rider who rides the bus to a train can pay far more.
The average National Harbor worker pays $8.30 round trip, according to UNITE HERE Local 25, in many cases to take a bus to the Green Line to the NH-1 bus to work. In New York, such a large hotel would be on top of the subway, and the trip for a resident of the city would only cost $2.25 each way. Actually, it would be a lot less, because almost all New Yorkers also buy unlimited passes.
Anthony Giancola, an alternate WMATA Board member from DC, suggested increasing the transfer discount to 75¢ from the current 50¢, Coupled with the 25-cent bus fare hike, that would keep bus rides constant for transferring riders but increase it for bus-only riders.
If fares have to rise, it makes sense to raise bus fares, but if they rise more than rail fares and become a little more New York-like, then the transfer discount should rise to also become more New York-like. Unfortunately, the proposal didn't go anywhere.
The Post makes a valid point, which David Gunn also made in his report to the Board, that it's not sustainable to put all fare increases on rail indefinitely just because rail riders are richer on average. However, any serious discussion of bus vs. rail fares must not forget about the people who ride both. In New York, all bus riders who transfer to rail pay nothing for their bus ride (or their rail ride, whichever you count). That isn't leading to criticism that the rail system is "subsidizing" the buses.
In recent debates, Fairfax alternate member Jeff McKay insisted it was unfair for parking fees to rise at the same time rail fares rise, which he said was too much for his constituents. However, he lacked similar outrage on behalf of his residents who ride the bus to the rail system, even suggesting that a higher transfer cost could pay for lower parking fees.
We can think of parking and buses as a "car to rail" transfer and a "bus to rail" transfer. Both feed the rail system. In both cases, Metro is subsidizing the feeder systems Cross-posted at All Politics are Local.
Cross-posted at All Politics are Local.
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