As some of you read, I’ve returned to riding Metro after a few months driving to work. The cost of parking is still such that taking Metro often makes more sense.
Apparently, though, it makes less and less sense for many people. The Washington Post reported that due to the increase in fares, bus ridership was down 7%, and while Metro ridership remained the same, Metro found that up to 3% of riders had moved their commute from the highest fare times.
In a way, this is exactly what’s needed to manage capacity. Market forces tend to balance out between supply and demand. Of course, it’s naive to think of a mass transit system in those terms.
Yes, Metro does have capacity issues — especially during rush hour. But making it more expensive for the neediest people to get to work is going to turn into a nightmare. So far, that has resulted in a 4% decrease in revenue. Which will likely mean higher fares. And the cycle continues.
And while rail ridership continues unabated, Metro is seeing a change in ridership. There are fewer short rides — people are walking, taking the bus or Circulator, or a bike. Metro also found that riders were taking fewer long trips, too.
Anecdotally, I know from friends who are further out that they would rather drive. With the highest fare running $5.45, when you factor driving to the Metro, paying for parking and a round trip ride from the outer suburbs, the cost is probably higher than what most downtown garages charge.
Michael Perkins at Greater Greater Washington has a good post about the options Metro has to simplify its fare structure. I think many people are confused and annoyed by the complex fares, and simple is almost always better.
But I don’t think that goes far enough. I think Metro needs to get off the distance traveled fare scheme and figure something out that’s much simpler. London’s zone system has been batted around, but London is also much larger (in every measure) than Metro.
I’m sure we could do well with a rail zone system that has zones marked out by DC, inner suburbs, and outer suburbs. But, honestly, I still think the best argument is for a flat fare, similar to New York’s.
I’ve made that argument before, and I think it still holds. It will have the added benefit of eliminating the tiered pricing system we have, and then, perhaps, people can stop complaining they aren’t getting more rush hour service for their rush hour dollar. Because Metro isn’t going to get better anytime soon.