Thursday, January 28, 2010

Common Cents for Metro

Aside from accidents and suicides, our Metro system seems to be in a perpetual state of insufficient funds.  Proposals continually resurface to deal with deficits by reducing service.  Such proposals include closing metro stations earlier and opening them later, increasing the length of time between metro or bus arrivals, and cutting bus lines.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Metro will continue on a downward spiral if it leads area residents to decide that it's just not worth it to take public transportation.  Loss of ridership will further plummet revenues, even while needs for safety improvements and expansion of the system continues to grow.  More people will simply drive -- adding to traffic congestion and parking issues.

And our quality of life will suffer.  There are many individuals who depend on metro to get to work early in the morning or late at night -- whether it's service employees or lawyers.

If the Metro system is ever going to expand to meet the region's increasing population, then its revenue structure needs to be placed on solid footing.

Metro should conduct a comprehensive review of its fare rates. At $1.35, our Metro is still considerably less than the base fare in New York City ($2.25), Chicago ($2.25), San Francisco ($2.00), and Boston ($1.70 with card). It's also far less than London (2.20 GBP for zones 1-2 = $3.50 USD). Perhaps metro needs to increase its base fare and, based on ridership statistics, consider fares to other stations or whether it is to the systems benefit to have a single, higher fare. Given the steep rise in gas prices, cab fares, and parking fees in recent years, even at a bumped up rate, taking Metro will still be a good deal. Complaints about Metro revolve around packed trains, delays, and safety - not a buck thirty-five.

Nor should Metro cut bus routes. While many routes remain underutilized, this is a result of a failure of Metro to make bus route maps available for many years and to get the "next bus" system up and running until recently. With more public education as to the available bus options, ridership may increase. The DC Circulator's success proves that buses are indeed viable.

If seeking to reduce costs and improve service, WMATA should consider whether it actually needs a bus stop on nearly every block in many areas. Can it keep the same service with less buses by spreading stops about three blocks apart? Not only would this save money, but it would actually get people where they are going more quickly.

This is not a tough choice.

At least the public seems to get it, as reported in the Washington Post today.  Members of the public who testified before WMATA on Wednesday overwhelmingly supported a fare increase of about 10 cents, and strongly opposing reductions in service or deeper cuts in the capital budget to address the deficit. Will Metro listen?

[See also GGW, We Love DC, and Unsuck DC Metro's coverage of the hearing.  A Washington Post's editorial gets it partially right by taking the position that WMATA should not take money from the capital budget rather than adopt a modest fare increase, while leaving the door open to some service cuts.]


Martin said...

Even a 50¢ increase would be more reasonable than cutting services on trains that are already crowded at peak hours.

si said...

I quit taking metro & couldn't be happier! Its all about the bicycle :) honestly, if you take the train, there is a huge chance it'll get stuck. no thank you.

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