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March 11, 2010

Metro fares increased

by Warren Zhang, Managing News Editor and Ombudsman
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) increased the fare for Metro services by $0.10 in order to cover a $40 million budget deficit for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, according to WMATA spokesperson Angela Gates. The fare increase went into effect on Feb. 28.

The new fare will affect all Metro operations, including Metrorail, Metrobus and Paratransit services, according to a Feb. 17 WMATA press release. The press release stated that the $0.10 increase affects all regular patrons of these services, while fares for senior citizens have been raised by only $0.05. The $0.10 increase will be in effect until June 26, said Gates. Any permanent changes beyond this date will be decided during budget discussions throughout this spring for the FY 2011 budget, which will take effect in July.

According to Gates, the FY 2010 budget encompassed a $40 million deficit due to recent low ridership. The fare increase is expected to contribute $10 million toward covering the FY 2010 budget hole. The remaining $30 million was covered in other cutbacks and savings throughout the year. "We’ve made $30 million worth of savings, so the budget deficit was cut down to around $9 to $10 million," she said.

Still, a potentially larger fare increase could happen in July due to a projected $189 million FY 2011 budget shortfall, stated Gates. "Our jurisdictions are going back to trying to find more funding, but we don’t expect much more," she said. According to Gates, the WMATA Board of Directors is also investigating possible ways to make up for the shortfall. "The board will have a special meeting March 11 to decide what options to present to the public," Gates said.

The low ridership that caused the Metro deficit may be attributed to the current economic crisis, said Gates. The WMATA Board of Directors worked to resolve the deficit through fare increases and service reductions after public hearings and recommendations from Metro staff. "We’ve had public hearings in January and the majority of people are in favor of cuts over service reductions," she said.

In response to the Metro fare increase, Montgomery County’s Ride-On service raised its fares by $0.10 as well said Montgomery County spokesperson Esther Bowring. The increase is meant to facilitate transfers between the Metro system and the Ride-On system. "Ride-On usually matches Metro’s fares for ease in transferring between systems," she said.

According to Bowring, the County Council has not yet decided upon an end date for the Ride-On fare increase. The revenue from the Ride-On the fare modification will go toward funds for county mass transit services, she said.

The Metro fare modifications come after several recent incidents within the Metro system, occurrences that may have contributed to the lower Metro ridership.

Last summer, two Metrorail trains collided outside the Fort Totten station, leading to nine deaths and a prolonged investigation of the collision’s cause. More accidents followed this year, including the deaths of two Metro workers during track maintenance and a train derailment near the Farragut North station in Washington, D.C., earlier in February.

Gates and Bowring do not expect decreased ridership on Metro and Ride-On, respectively, in response to the $0.10 fare change.

However, according to Gates, the possible FY 2011 fare increase, predicted to be much higher than $0.10, will probably have a greater effect on the number of Metro riders. "For the $0.10 increase, we don’t expect much of a change," Gates said. "For the next one, there might be more substantial [changes]."

Because of the multiple tragedies surrounding the WMATA, general manager John Catoe announced on Jan. 14 that he will be resigning fron his position in April.

In his official letter, Catoe stated that he did not want to remain as a distraction for the organization because of his association in the media with the safety incidents that have occurred in the past months.
A new manager replacement will be selected in the coming months, said Gates. "Our board is undergoing a search process," she said. "We will likely have an interim general manager until a permanent one can be found."



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