There’s a giant hole in the Metro budget, and there is a plan for plugging it. Of course, it’s going to require fare raises and service cuts, and it’s not likely to be fun. Metro’s choice of a complicated set of charges based on distance and time of day (and peak-of-the-peak!) leaves my head aching for something less complex.
New York’s Subway has often been held up as the simplest way to do fare collection: each and every trip is the same price ($2.25). Sounds good to me, but would it work here, and what would it cost?
Let’s do some math, based on Metro’s proposed 2011 budget numbers (PDF – Table 3.8).
Metro is looking to raise $705,145,424 from “passenger revenue” — what you pay at the fare gate. That number is for rail, bus, and MetroAccess. They are estimating 349,922,641 rides over all systems in 2011. The math is pretty easy, and the flat rate per ride is just about $2.02. It doesn’t sound bad, does it?
The problem is that for the average bus rider, that’s a 50% rise in rates. And for those folks commuting from the edge of the rail system during peak times, that’s an almost 56% drop. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem fair or right, does it?
What if the bus and MetroAccess were left with their proposed increases for next year, but we tried to flat rate just the revenue from rail? To make the 219,607,596 equal the needed $567,887,615, you’d need to charge around $2.69. Assuming you only go a short distance on your morning commute, and your trip only costs $1.75, you’re going to be paying 54% more. That’s a tough hike to swallow in this (or any) economy.
Dave Alpert suggests that a flat fare isn’t what Metro should be looking to do, as the structure of the system is considerably different from that of New York’s. He suggests that a zone system, like that used in London, might be better. I’m intrigued by this, and want to run the numbers, but I don’t have the data that shows ridership between station pairs at the different day parts.
Personally, I would love to see a flat fare across the entire system of $2.25, but would be okay with even a $3 flat rate for the rail system only. Yes, I know it’s unfair, and it would likely drive many short-route folks away from the system, but it should draw more people in at the edges, and it should provide a decent injection of cash and stability to the system.