Metro Money

Fare hikes and ded­i­cated rev­enue

The Washington Post Sunday - - Letters -

THANKS TO Metro’s new gen­eral man­ager, Wash­ing­ton area bus and train rid­ers won’t have to pay more to get into work any­time soon. But the is­sue of in­creas­ing fares still looms.

Late last year, Metro’s staff drew up a pro­posal to raise fares to fill a bud­get deficit. In­stead of a uni­form in­crease, Metro planned to charge higher fares for those who ride dur­ing peak hours or use the busiest sta­tions. But Metro’s gen­eral man­ager, John B. Ca­toe Jr., re­cently threw out the plan, in­stead propos­ing to fix a bud­get short­fall with lay­offs and other sav­ings. And when fare in­creases are nec­es­sary, he said, they should not hit some rid­ers much harder than oth­ers.

We hope Mr. Ca­toe can bal­ance Metro’s bud­get with­out in­creas­ing fares and with­out sac­ri­fic­ing safety or re­li­a­bil­ity. En­cour­ag­ingly, he in­sists that com­mon-sense cuts at Metro will save money and have no ef­fect on the ser­vice. One hun­dred em­ploy­ees, for ex­am­ple, will be cut from the agency’s con­struc­tion unit — now un­needed be­cause Metro is no longer en­gaged in large build­ing projects. If Mr. Ca­toe is right, Metro’s staff should have of­fered such a plan months ago in­stead of en­dors­ing new user fees. Still, he must re­main care­ful as he fires em­ploy­ees. Ag­ing trains and tracks have led to all too com­mon ser­vice in­ter­rup­tions; the sys­tem can­not af­ford cuts that would worsen main­te­nance is­sues.

Metro will still have to raise fares some­time. Mr. Ca­toe wants to in­sti­tute a sys­tem of reg­u­lar fare in­creases linked to the cost of liv­ing. The re­li­a­bil­ity of such a sched­ule is ap­peal­ing. Rid­ers will be able to an­tic­i­pate well ahead of time when and by how much their trans­porta­tion bud­gets will have to in­crease. Nev­er­the­less, Metro should not to­tally aban­don its last fare-hike pro­posal. Though flawed in the de­tails, its ba­sic logic is sound: Metro should still con­sider greater in­cen­tives to take the train dur­ing off-peak times to al­le­vi­ate crowd­ing and strain on the sys­tem. Mr. Ca­toe says that the idea is good in prin­ci­ple and un­pop­u­lar in prac­tice. But jammed rush-hour trains are also un­pop­u­lar.

Rais­ing fares alone will not solve Metro’s bud­get prob­lems. Metro reg­u­larly finds it­self beg­ging for money from lo­cal gov­ern­ments be­cause it lacks a ded­i­cated stream of pub­lic fund­ing — and there­fore re­lies much more on fares than do other pub­lic trans­porta­tion net­works its size. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of a fed­eral bill that would give Metro $1.5 bil­lion over 10 years for much-needed im­prove­ments on the con­di­tion that lo­cal gov­ern­ments match it with ded­i­cated funds, the Dis­trict has pledged such fund­ing, and the Vir­ginia Gen­eral As­sem­bly au­tho­rized a ded­i­cated rev­enue source last week. Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley sup­ports de­vot­ing money to Metro as well.

Congress must keep up its part of the bar­gain. The Se­nate failed to act on the pro­posal in its last ses­sion af­ter the House ap­proved it. The House should repass the bill soon, and the Se­nate should sup­port it this time around.

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