Metro is proposing slight increases for all rail and bus fares, and some parking in its proposed 2015 budget, presented at a public hearing on Thursday.
Rail fares are proposed to rise by 3 percent, and Metro will eliminate paper fare card fees. For an average daily commuter, this will amount to a $6 per month increase, according to proposed budget estimates.
Bus riders will be charged a flat fee of $1.75 on regular buses, and $4 on express buses, as outlined by the budget. SmarTrip card users now pay $1.60 for a bus ride, and cash customers pay $1.80. Since the majority of bus riders use SmarTrip cards — rechargeable cards used to pay Metro and bus fares — this change will increase revenue for Metro, charging the averge SmarTrip card-using bus commuter nine more dollars per month, according to preliminary budget estimates.
The budget also recommends better lighting in underground stations and improvements to 11 stations.
These changes will follow a cut in commuting subsidies for federal employees and employees of other organizations that offer the benefit, in January 2014. Some workers have been able to spend up to $245 per month on commuting pre-tax. Next year the limit will lower to $130 per month, according to an Internal Revenue Service bulletin. The limit had been raised under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, but expires at the end of this year.
Larry Hershman of Takoma Park, also a program officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said his department covers commuting costs up to a certain amount. Subsidies vary by department.
For him, the fare increase isn’t a major concern, although it may bump his costs just above his reduced subsidy limit once both changes take effect. What does concern Hershman, like many, is the Metro’s regular breakdowns and delays.
“As a commuter, I’m very frustrated. ... The delays are frequent,” he said. “It’s often enough that whenever I have an opportunity to telework, I do, primarily to avoid the mess with commuting.”
He estimates that he spends $131 per month on commuting, all of which is covered by the transportation department.
Metro Public Information Officer Morgan Dye wrote in an email to The Gazette, that the 2015 budget “includes funding to provide safer, better and more service and begins making the down payment for capacity improvements as part of Metro’s 2025 plan.” Among those improvements called for in the plan are more eight-car trains during rush hour and improvements to bus service.
The proposed increases are lower than inflation over the last two years, when the last rate adjustments were made, Dye wrote.
Maryland’s contribution to the budget could rise to $297.1 million, including $130.3 million on behalf of Montgomery County, of the total proposed $779 million. State representatives are involved in Metro’s budget approval process and the subsidy is factored into the Maryland Department of Transportation’s budget to be approved by the General Assembly. The overall budget would increase by 6 percent. Parking in all stations could go up by 25 cents.