Metro fare will increase July 1 following the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors’ approval of fare hikes and reduced services last Thursday.
In an effort to avoid a $1.1 billion budget deficit by 2020, Metro will increase rush hour Metrorail fares by 10 cents, making the one-way minimum fare $2.25 and the new maximum $6. Non-rush hour fares will rise 25 cents to $2.
Metrobus fares will also increase by 25 cents. Airport bus fees will increase to $7.50.
This marks Metro’s first fare increases to its rail system in three years amid declining ridership.
In addition to the fare hikes, WMATA’s 2018 fiscal year budget of $3.1 billion proposes eliminating 14 low-traffic Metrobus lines, reducing service hours, cutting nearly 1,000 jobs and requesting additional funding from the local governments of the District, Virginia and Maryland.
Trains running during rush hour will now be scheduled to run every eight minutes at the end of the line instead of the current six minutes.
Additionally, Metro plans to cut hours of operation every day of the week starting in July, with train stations open from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, open from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and operating from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday. Currently, the Metro begins services at 5 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends, closing at midnight every day.
The 2017-18 fiscal year was marked by declining ridership revenue from Metrorail and Metrobus, which makes up over 89 percent of total revenue.
Total Metrorail ridership is projected to reach 177.1 million trips in 2017-18, a 13 percent decrease from the 2016-17 projection of 203.5 million trips. Total Metrobus ridership is projected to reach 115.2 million trips, down 15 percent from 135.6 million trips in 2016-17.
According to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, these projections demonstrate customer dissatisfaction. Wiedefeld attributed the decline in ridership to the system’s “safety surges,” scheduled outages on the rail system during intense maintenance. WMATA plans to complete three years’ worth of renovations in one year.
The series of safety-related incidents on Metrorail is also a reason for declining ridership, according to Widefeld. Specifically, WMATA has recorded an uptick in crimes committed on trains, with a security report presented to the Metro board Dec. 1, recording 5.4 crimes for every million riders, in addition to delays and malfunctions caused by old tracks or train cars over the past few years.
At a press conference last Thursday, Wiedefeld explained that the financial situation he inherited has made repairs and renovations difficult.
“When I came on board, my focus was on service and the safety issues and that’s what I was doing,” Wiedefeld said. “This is a very large system. It hasn’t been invested in at the level we should have been investing over the years.”
The decision has been met with resistance from local businesses and pro-growth organizations, which focus on walkable and transit-oriented cities, concerned that the Metro board’s decision will further reduce ridership and ultimately drive the utility out of business. The Metro board defends the changes as necessary to sustain WMATA in the long-run and avoid a nearly $300 million budget shortfall for this year alone.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a pro-growth group, argues for a more Metro funding from the local governments that rely on WMATA, such the District of Columbia, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Falls Church.
According to Coalition for Smarter Growth Deputy Director Aimee Custis, since the budget is not decided by elected officials, WMATA has competing obligations to both Metro riders and the board members’ individual jurisdictions.
Custis said the leading alternative to funding Metro could be a regional sales tax.
Still, Wiedefeld said this approach is necessary for long-run stability in Washington and the surrounding metropolitan region.
“What this system means to the region into the future is huge,” Wiedefeld said March 23. “A lot of the focus has been on the here and now and we have to continue to do that, but we also have to think about what this system means for this region and the economy and the mobility of this region.”
Georgetown University Student Association President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) said many students rely on WMATA being an affordable resource and GUSA is working on efforts to maintain accessibility.
“When students do use public transportation, they primarily utilize the routes that are closer to downtown D.C., which are less likely to be cut due to high ridership,” Mack wrote in an email to The Hoya. “GUSA, in conjunction with the university, has recently added Saturday GUTS routes, and we are also in talks with WMATA to push for a weekend student pass on the Metro, as well as looking into further GUTS improvements.”