Metro to host public hearings on potential fare hikes

Metro will hold hearings across the D.C. area beginning Monday to gauge public input on potential fare hikes.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is proposing fare increases starting in July across the transportation network to close a $116 million shortfall in the next fiscal year’s operating budget.

The agency might bump up overall fares for bus and rail rides by 5 percent and switch the cost of a paper fare card up to a flat fee of $6 during rush hour trips and $4 at other times, unlike the current fare card system, which adjusts prices according to stops.

WMATA is also considering nixing its 20 cent rush-hour surcharge, a target of criticism since it was introduced in summer 2010. Bus rates would also increase by 10 cents across the board.

“If you charge people at the peak of the peak, people will just scatter their schedules. It just wasn’t effective, and it complicated the fare system that we had,” Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said.

Public hearings on the fare options – which must also be approved by Metro’s board of directors – are scheduled for Feb. 27 to March 7.

Individuals can submit formal testimonies at the six public meetings, which will be held in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.

Metro also posted a survey online Wednesday to gauge public opinion on its next operating budget and potential fare changes.

The transit agency held public hearings in 2010, when it increased fares for Metrorail, MetroAccess and Metrobus by 10 cents each to close a budget gap that year and added the 20 cent rush-hour charge. Metro historically has held public hearings on fare and service changes as part of its community outreach effort, with turnout varying with the steepness of proposed fare hikes.

“You might have a 5 cent increase, 20 cent increase or a dollar increase [in fares],” Stewart said. “Some people might say, ‘This extra 25 cents is going to kill me,’ some might say, ‘I have to pay 10 cents less so I don’t care.’ That’s really what the meetings are for.”

Metro’s board will vote in June on the agency’s 2013 budget, which must cover $904 million for upgrades, including the replacement of some railcars, escalators and elevators.

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