Adjusted for inflation, Metrorail fares were at their lowest around 2000, and are now either close to or above their highest point in the 1980s. The fares typically have risen during recessions and stayed steady in good economic times.

The graph above shows the peak fares for Metrorail trips of different distances since the system’s opening in 1976, including the “peak-of-the-peak” surcharge added in 2010. It also shows gas prices, and lists both fares and gas prices adjusted for inflation.

In 2010, Metrorail trips of 14 miles and above all cost the same maximum fare. Under the new proposal, Metro riders will have to pay more for miles 15 and 16, as they did before 2008. The net result is that trips longer than 14 miles will see a fairly substantial fare increase, while fares for all other distances will decline.

Although raising the maximum distance cap from 14 to 16 miles will probably prove unpopular among longer distance Metrorail commuters, opening the Silver Line to Dulles may require Metro to reevaluate the maximum distance cap again in the future.

Fares appear to follow a clear trend of increasing in times of economic hardship and decreasing when the economy is stronger. Today’s historically high fares should come as little surprise given the severity of the current economic slump. Metrorail riders feeling the pain of these prices may have to wait for a stronger economic recovery to take hold before they can expect any lasting relief.

Sources for this article included WMATA: History of Fare Increases, Metrorail 1976-2010 (PDF); WMATA: Proposed FY2013 Fare Adjustments, Proposed FY2013 Capital Improvement

Program, and Federal FY2012 Grant Applications (PDF); U.S. Energy Information Administration: Motor Gasoline Retail Prices, U.S. City Average, 1976-1990 (PDF); and U.S. Energy Information Administration: Weekly U.S. Regular All Formulations Retail Gasoline Prices, 1990-2012.


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Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.