According to a recent article in the Washington Post, WMATA is considering an increase of fares
systemwide by an average of $0.45. While no final decision has been made, it is fairly certain that Metro riders will be paying more come January.
Metro is already America's second busiest subway, after only New York's extensive network of rapid transit. As a matter of fact, Metro's rail system carries over 750,000 passengers on an average day, far outstripping ridership in larger and denser cities.
Of course I hate to see a fare increase as much as the next guy, but the alternative is far worse. Like many of this nation's transit systems, Metro has been forced to defer maintenence; which coupled with the high daily ridership has resulted in an alarming number of breakdowns and high-profile incidents like last month's series of fires. Of course a reduction in service might seem like an acceptable alternative, but it isn't. Last week I was on an Orange Line train which was filled to capacity. The train was 8 cars long--the entire platform length--and was two minutes behind the train ahead and two minutes ahead of the train behind. The platform at Farragut North looks like the platform at MARTA's Georgia Dome stop right after a Falcon's game--for most of the rush hour, every day. If anything, Metro must continue to work to expand it's railfleet to allow more 8-car trains and higher frequencies.
Unfortunately WMATA is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to funding day-to-day operations. The system is already America's second-most expensive, following the Bay Area's BART rapid rail system. Even more shocking, the farebox recovery ratio for the Metrorail is 79%. Most systems in America have a ratio of around 30%--that is riders pay for 30% of the cost of their trip.
Contributing to the problem is Metro's lack of dedicated funding. WMATA remains the only transit system in the country lacking a dedicated source of revenue. It is time that local jurisdictions along with the federal government stepped up to the plate to dedicate money to Metro. This transit system is the lifeline of hundreds of thousands of commuters and it provides economic development incentives to the region as well. As we move into a more environmentally conscious future, we must realize the value of urban transit systems like the Metro. This subway is not just a transit system for the region; it is America's subway, and it's time that its operations become as much a model for other transit systems as its architecture has been for the past three decades.
The federal goverment must change its stance on urban transportation. The age of cheap oil has passed and it is high time that America started rebuilding its urban transit infrastructure. There is no excuse for any major American city to lack a basic rail system. We cannot expect to lead the world in climate change if we refuse to invest in our cities in ways that show we have not yet given up the hope which was so prevalent in the City Beautiful Movement. Let's get on board with a set of progressive urban policies before we find the "Doors Closing."