The discussion, which included a myriad of service changes and rate changes, did not include any formal vote or consensus, but did indicate that board members are open to the rate increase. Presented with sweeping proposals that could increase fares by 5% or 25%, Metro Board Chairman Paul C. Smedberg asked staff to come back with a third alternative to consider — a 10% increase .
Even a 25% increase would only cover 30% of Metro’s funding shortfall next fiscal year, a gap that is expected to widen in subsequent years. Board members agree the hole is too big for Metro to cover without more support from local or federal governments, but member Matthew F. Letourneau said a fare increase would show Metro is doing its part.
“I think it will be important for [Metro] to show that we’re trying to close the gap ourselves,” said Letourneau, a Loudoun County supervisor (R-Dulles). “For me, even a modest tariff increase should be part of the package moving forward for further discussion. Because certainly everything in the world, especially here, has gone up in price.
Letourneau noted that Metro has not raised fares for almost five years. He also acknowledged the long waits and frustrating service levels experienced by Metro customers since October 2021, when Metrorail’s regulator suspended the 7000 series for wheel movements in multiple cars. The series accounts for approximately 60% of Metro cars.
“We haven’t provided the level of service we wanted for the past two years,” Letourneau said. “But hey, it’s changing and it’s getting better. We return to where we need to be.
This week marked a turning point for Metro, which has gone through crippling crises in recent years. From the pandemic, which led to an unprecedented drop in ridership, Metro’s recovery has been hampered by ramping up telecommuting, leaving trains less than half full. The suspension of the more advanced subway cars has compounded these problems.
The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, a regulatory body that ordered the cars out of service, slowly allowed Metro to reinstate them as part of a regimen of regular wheel screenings.
A recent surge in ridership and the need for more trains to ease congestion, combined with plans to open the Silver Line extension, prompted subway officials last week to express frustration at the Commission’s step-by-step approach. That ultimately led to a compromise on Tuesday that allows Metro to use at least 30 more trains and includes steps to reinstate the entire 7000 series in the coming months.
Metro chief executive Randy Clarke said Thursday that Metro was able to operate 18 eight-car 7000-series trains, the most since the suspension began. The transit agency plans to increase that number over the next few months, slowly reducing wait times that typically average more than 10 minutes. Clarke said Metro officials will establish a timeline next week that outlines when Metro will return to pre-pandemic rail frequencies.
To alleviate the congestion that occurs mostly during weekday rush hours on the Red Line, Clarke said Metro is also deploying additional standby trains to use when congestion increases.
The biggest decrease in wait times, he said, would likely have to wait until Metro reopens the yellow line, which was closed for an eight-month bridge and tunnel repair project that is scheduled to end in May. . The reopened line will provide Metro with better access to a rail yard in Alexandria, allowing greater flexibility in bringing cars in and out for inspections.
Metro’s train shortage had also threatened to delay the opening of the Silver Line extension, an 11.5-mile segment that will serve Washington Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County. As those concerns dissipated, Clarke said he hoped to announce an opening date next week, subject to Metro receiving security board clearances. He said subway workers complete minor tasks, such as installing missing signs, before the agency seeks certification.
The opening of the $3 billion project is four years behind schedule, but Clarke said he’s optimistic Metro can begin passenger service for Thanksgiving trips.
“We’re very focused on opening the line for Thanksgiving holiday travel,” Clarke said at a press conference after the board meeting. “We know how important it is.”
During the meeting, transit officials outlined ways for Metro to increase revenue and reduce costs through service cuts to close out a projected operating budget of $146 million. difference. That hole had previously been projected at $185 million, but subway officials say increased ridership and money from other sources offset some of the amount.
Closing the gap further could require either service cuts, rate restructuring, rate hikes, service reductions, layoffs of up to 1,190 workers, or a mix of concepts presented to board members. Metro is also considering charging flat fares to passengers based on zones, finding subsidies for free rides and a program that would reduce fares for low-income riders.
Of these concepts, board members seemed the most hesitant to move on to rate zones.
“I don’t like the zone fare idea,” said member Sarah Kline. “Honestly, I don’t see the benefit of that over the distance-based pricing that we currently have, because essentially it’s distance-based as it’s been designed here.”
Lucinda M. Babers, board member and deputy mayor for the district for operations and infrastructure, said she was concerned about zoned fares because of DC’s experience with a zoned taxi fare system that the leaders had given up in 2008.
“DC had its own [zone] concept for our taxi system and that was one of the most confusing things, especially for our tourists,” Babers said. “And so we finally got rid of that and moved to the distance-based concept.”