DC Metro Hikes Up Fares Without Improving Service

Washington D.C.'s Metro system just increased fares but doesn't promise to improve the rider experience.

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Metro patrons ride through the Farragut West station in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006. Metro board members on Thursday will begin debating a hefty and complex fare increase of as much as $2.10 for certain trips.

I don't want to be one of those people who complains about the Washington Metro system. But the operation's new fare system is overpriced and confusing, aggravating a long litany of problems Metro has had and not fixed.

I love public transportation. I don't just love the idea of it—though I do very much support the idea of public transportation for social, economic, and environmental reasons. I actually enjoy riding on subways and buses. I like not having to worry about being distracted or tired when traveling home. I like not having to deal with traffic or aggressive drivers. The ride home from work on a subway car or bus can be the beginning of decompression after work, as opposed to a car trip which can merely add to any stress of the workday. Metro is clean and remarkably safe, and its riders are reasonably courteous.

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Metro, however, seems constantly in a state of disrepair. Escalators are frequently not working—no trouble for those of us who can go up and down long flights of stairs, but tough for those with luggage or physical constraints. Delays seem to be getting worse, and lines are shut down with astonishing frequency (the shutdown of the Green Line leg that connects with the bus traveling to Baltimore Washington International airport was particularly inconvenient). And yet, Metro on Sunday initiated a massive rate hike—with no promise of better service.

Worse, the fare system is not only arguably unfair but very confusing. A ride that once cost $1.85 (and not so long ago, $1.35) is now $2.05, according to the fare structure on the Metrocard machines. Go ahead, try to get a farecard for $2.05. It won't let you, since you now can't travel for anything less than $3.05 (it's more during rush hour). Is this information on the fare chart? Sort of. There's a notice at the top that if you don't use a Smartcard, you have to pay $1 more per trip. Since Metro made up new fare charts anyway—the old ones had three fares; one "regular," one "peak," and one " peak of the peak,"—why not have three categories of fares on the new farecharts? One that has the off-peak fare, the peak fare, and the fare without a Smartcard? Does Metro think it's fooling anyone by advertising deceptively lower fares? All it's going to do is slow down the lines to get Metro cards—and Metro is slow enough already.

Extensive, well-subsidized public transport is a positive thing, a way to cut down on everything from greenhouse gas emissions to drunk driving. But charging vastly more for still-inadequate service isn't going to win any converts.

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