Alexandria mayor has say in Metro fare hike

Alexandria mayor has say in Metro fare hike
Metro riders pay for fare cards at the King Street Metro. (David Sachs)

Metro, one of the most expensive transit outfits in the country, could increase fares for the second time since 2010 and Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille has some say in the matter.

Safety improvements, rail expansion to Dulles, pricey employee pensions and health care costs have helped create a $116-million shortfall for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, prompting Metro General Manager Richard Sarles to propose a 5-percent rate increase to fill the gap. Euille sits on the WMATA board, which creates Metro’s annual budget.

“My initial reaction is a fare increase is fair if it’s reasonable,” Euille said, adding he has yet to study the proposed budget in full.

The base rail fare is $1.95 — up 30 cents from 2010 — and gets more expensive as riders travel farther, unlike in New York or Boston where a base fare gets users to any stop in the city. The board is mulling the rate increase but knows parts of it will be unpopular, Euille said.

Many Metro riders say the current fares don’t reflect the low level of service. Scheduled disruptions seem like a weekly event and unscheduled train and track malfunctions frustrate commuters like Gregory Calin, who spends more than $10 daily on buses and trains to get from West Falls Church to the King Street Metro Station. It takes him anywhere from one hour to 80 minutes each way, depending on delays, he said.

“I didn’t feel like I was getting what I paid for when they raised fares the first time [in 2010], let alone now,” Calin said. “It’s really deficient if they’re trying to bring more people to the line.”

Encouraging transit use is key to Alexandria’s smart growth initiatives and a fare hike could deter ridership — if people have a choice. But Calin doesn’t. He has an eye problem that keeps him from getting a driver’s license, but if he could drive, he believes it would be less expensive.

“I have no choice but to continue [using Metro],” he said.

Darrell Mosley, a commuter who travels from Burke to Van Dorn Street Metro Station daily, said he is ditching Metro for a car.

“The system is terrible,” Mosley said. “It’s too expensive to be waiting around all the time. I might not save money [on a car], but I won’t lose any.”

Euille admits a fare hike could deter ridership but said he could not take a stance on a fare hike until he knew more information. Metro employees don’t contribute to their pensions and the federal government, whose workers comprise the bulk of Metro ridership, “need to step up to the plate and ante up” to make Metro more affordable to the average person, Euille said.

“[A fare hike] can certianly be risky business. I think we run the chance of making Metro costlier during these hard economic times,” he said.

Sarles asked each jurisdiction to increase its contribution to Metro’s budget too, asking Alexandria to add $800,000 on top of its subsidy of about $22 million.
Public hearings on the WMATA budget begin next month, but the spending plan won’t pass until June.