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A Metro budget report released Thursday details how ridership on its rail system has decreased the past five years, which may cause an increase in fares next fiscal year.
The document, titled “FY2017 Budget: Ridership and Revenue,” outlines five reasons for the limited number of commuters on WMATA’s trains: the local economy, a federal tax benefit for using public transportation, telecommuting, carpooling and bicycling to work and safety.
In terms of safety, the report mentions the Yellow Line tunnel incident at L’Enfant Plaza in January when one person died after an electrical malfunction caused a train to fill with smoke, an August derailment of a train not carrying passengers between the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations and a substation fire last month at Stadium-Armory in Southeast.
“There is preliminary evidence that these events are impacting ridership, though additional analysis of the trends is required before any definitive conclusions are drawn,” according to the report. “Riders are experiencing more unpredictable travel times and must budget more time to reach their destination.”
The report became public at Metro’s board of directors meeting Thursday and can be read on the company’s website: www.wmata.com.
A representative through Metro’s media relations office did not respond to phone requests Oct. 8 and 9 for comment.
Metro, formally called the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, services commuters by train and bus throughout the region with 91 Metrorail stations: 40 in the District, 26 in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, and 25 in Northern Virginia.
The report also states there were 150 million passenger trips in 1996, which increased to nearly 225 million in 2009.
“However, starting in 2010 through 2015, daily rail ridership has declined by 5 percent.” Based on Metro’s calculation, about 213 million trips took place on the subway in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The last fare increase occurred in July 2014, or fiscal year 2015, which increased revenues by 5 percent, or by $39 million. The fares to ride the subway range from $2.15 to $5.90.
However, the report states revenues fell short of projections because of a decline in riders on Metrorail and Metrobus.
“Metrorail fares are the primary non-subsidy revenue source for the operating budget,” according to the report.
To avoid a possible fare increase, some of the options Metro proposes to increase ridership and revenue include:
- Implementing a university pass program for Metrorail,
- Expansion of high ridership routes for Metrobus service
- And expanding the company’s advertising.
The board of directors will meet next month to review next year’s fiscal budget.
Terry Murray, 63, of Southeast said a possible fare increase wouldn’t bother him because he doesn’t catch the train.
“An increase doesn’t bother me none. I only pay 85 cents to ride the bus because I’m disabled,” Murray said Oct. 8 while standing at a Metro bus stop at Alabama Avenue and 15th Street. “I don’t ride the subway because it’s too expensive.”
The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance of McLean, Virginia, a private organization that focuses on improving regional transport in that area, supports Metro and its rail system.
However, “a fare increase is not the answer to increase ridership,” said David Birtwistle, the CEO of the alliance. “To improve Metro and ensure rideability, an investment on the current rail system is the way to go.”
George Johnson of Riverdale, Maryland, isn’t surprised a fare increase may happen because of Metro’s previous light-rail failures. Johnson retired recently from Metro after 36 years of service as a bus driver, a rail operator and more.
“The problem with Metro is middle management,” he said. “Middle management has caused Metro to go down because of being late in making decisions to keep the company running and system up to par. (Managers) waited too late to start working on tracks and upgrading the power structure.”
Johnson attended a meeting Oct. 8 at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission office in Riverdale to hear a report on the new Purple Line light-rail system.
The Maryland Transit Administration oversees the estimated $2 billion project scheduled to have 21 stations between New Carrollton in Prince George’s and Bethesda in Montgomery County. The Purple Line would connect to three Metrorail lines – Orange, Green and Red.
The state’s Board of Public Works plans to approve a concessionaire next year to begin work on the project and scheduled to open for service in 2021.
Besides helping commuters who live in the northern portion of Prince George’s, Michael D. Madden of the transit administration said the Purple Line will increase ridership for Metro.
“The Purple Line will allow a lot of communities who don’t have good access to Metrorail to have better access. One-third of our riders will be taking a portion of their trips on Metro,” said Madden, deputy project director for Purple Line in the administration’s Transit Development and Delivery office. “Although it is not a part of the Metro system, it will bring a lot of accessibility to the Metro system. The Purple Line will be a big boost to the whole region.”