WASHINGTON -- Prepare to pay higher Metro fares, especially if you don't have a SmarTrip card. Richard Sarles, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, is unveiling his new budget proposal which would simplify the complicated rail fare structure, raise revenue for needed repairs and infrastructure improvements plus push more riders to use the electronic SmarTrip payment card.
Sarles, in a Tuesday morning appearance on WRC-TV/NBC4, said years of deferred maintenance has necessitated higher fares.
"After years of not investing in the system, we have to make those investments," said Sarles, previously the executive director at New Jersey Transit. Sarles' announcement of a fare hike has been anticipated for weeks.
Metro, which faces a $116 million budget deficit, is currently in the middle of an aggressive rail system rehabilitation effort, part of which has been mandated by the National Transportation Safety Board following its investigation into the 2009 Red Line crash which killed 9 people and injured more than 70 riders.
All that requires money. "When you rebuild, it takes resources to do that," Sarles said on WRC-TV.
If Sarles' plan is implemented by the transit agency's board of directors, how much will riders pay?
- The biggest changes would come to those who don't use SmarTrip: A flat $4 one-way fare would be applied to paper farecards regardless of the distance traveled during off-peak hours. During rush hour, non-SmarTrip users would pay a $6 one-way flat rate. Day passes would be eliminated.
As Post's Dr. Gridlock notes, Metro's controversial 20-cent peak-of-the-peak rail surcharge, meant to ease congestion during the height of the morning and afternoon rush hours, did not work as planned and will be eliminated.
The elimination of peak-of-the-peak pricing in Sarles' plan will actually slightly decrease the cost of a Metrorail ride in some cases. In an interview on WTTG-TV/Fox5 on Tuesday morning, Sarles said that rush hour commuters going between Union Station and the Farragut North station would see a slightly cheaper ride.
Additionally, proposed service cuts are being shelved.
Public hearings will be held in February and then the transit agency's board of directors will have to approve Sarles budget plan. As the Post reports, while the new fare structure, if approved, would go into effect in July, the higher flat rates for paper farecards would not go into effect until after Labor Day, giving Metro more time to install additional SmarTrip dispensaries in stations.
In recent years, Metro has been involved in a major push to get riders to use SmarTrip, which allows for seamless electronic transfers for riders and eliminates paper, printing and dispensing costs for Metro. The transit agency eliminated paper transfers between buses and from rail to buses in 2009.
Sarles is in the middle of a public relations push to unveil his plan. The general manager will participate in a Google+ hangout at 1 p.m.