Photo by RambergMediaImages on Flickr.

Metro is expected to announce a proposed fare increase today. The proposal from CEO Richard Sarles calls for eliminating the peak-of-the-peak fare and instituting a flat fare for paper farecards as part of his annual budget for FY 2013, which starts in July.

Compared to previous fare increases which were targeted at less sensitive peak fare customers, this increase is directed at occasional riders and visitors. The maximum off-peak rail fare is currently $2.75. It will rise to $3.50 under this proposal — an increase of 27%.

The fare increase will provide an even bigger incentive for people to obtain a Smartrip card, since all paper farecard trips will cost $6 each way during peak periods and $4 each way during off-peak periods.

With a SmarTrip card, rail fares will range from $1.70 to $3.50 off-peak and from $2.10 to $5.75 during rush hours. Regular local bus fares will rise from $1.60 to $1.70 for SmarTrip customers, while customers paying in cash will have their fares rounded to the nearest dollar.

Since use of SmarTrip by visitors and non-regular riders is expected to increase, SmarTrip vending machines will be installed at more all stations.

With the elimination of the peak-of-the-peak fare, station fare tables will go back to having just two columns. But riders shouldn’t expect to save a whole lot, since the “regular” fare has been increased enough to cover the difference. With the peak-of-the-peak surcharge, the current maximum fare is $5.20. It will rise to $5.75 under the proposal.

Parking at Metro lots and garages will increase by 25¢ per day, about a 5% increase. Bike locker fees will be cut from $200 per year to $120 per year, something we argued for based on low demand for lockers.

Most disappointing to me is that discussion of implementing some sort of flexible monthly pass has stopped for this budget cycle, meaning that Metro customers will likely have to wait at least two more years to have the flexibility of paying for their commute and getting their off-peak trips for free. The topic of monthly passes was briefly discussed during an October meeting of the finance committee, but by November had disappeared from the discussion.

The fare increases are expected to raise about half of Metro’s $120 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year, with local jurisdictions expected to chip in the other half of the shortfall in order to balance the budget. Metro’s finance committee will discuss the fare increase along with the rest of the budget on Thursday morning.