Diagram of Metrorail crowding by Matt Johnson.

WMATA staff will evaluate the MetroRiders.Org/Greater Greater Washington/

Coalition for Smarter Growth recommendation to replace the generalized peak-of-the-peak charge with one of up to 50¢ that only applies to trips in the “congested core.”

At yesterday’s Board meeting, Arlington’s Chris Zimmerman brought up the letter from the three groups and praised their approach of using specific objectives to guide fare policy rather than the untargeted, blanket proposals in the General Manager’s recommended fare increase.

At his urging and with the assent of other members, staff agreed to examine a more targeted peak-of-the-peak fare. The press gave this proposal widespread coverage. Fox 5 interviewed me for a TV segment that ran on last night’s news. but their site is down at the moment.

The system is particularly crowded during a single hour in the morning and evening peak, and in a small core section. Therefore, it makes sense to charge extra for trips in that area, during that time, but not for those people who are riding from Franconia to King Street and aren’t taking up the most precious space.

Where should the charge apply? Based on Matt Johnson’s terrific analysis of system crowding, I’d suggest applying it to trips that start, end, or pass through stations from Dupont Circle to Union Station, Rosslyn to Capitol South, and Pentagon to Gallery Place. Below are several alternatives and a rough analysis of their value.

1a. Charge at the busiest stations

Ideally this charge would only hits riders on the most crowded segments of the system, since the goal is to target only those riders who are using up the most precious space and who, if they switched to another time of day, would better spread out ridership across the system.

One approach would be to only apply it to the busiest stations. Looking just at the stations with the most passenger traffic (scroll down to the table), means that Shady Grove and New Carrollton would be included. But the trains aren’t at their most crowded there, it’s just that those stations have a lot of boardings.

1b. Charge at the busiest stations by morning exits

How about looking at exits in the AM peak? Click on “Exits” in that table to sort in that way. The top 19 stations are basically contiguous, which would apply the congestion charge to anyone getting off the system at any stations from Dupont to Union Station on the Red Line, Rosslyn to Capitol South on Orange/Blue, Crystal City to Gallery Place on Yellow and Blue/Yellow, or Navy Yard to Gallery Place on Green.

Anyone boarding at one of those stations in the AM peak, like a bus rider who transfers at Pentagon to go to King Street, wouldn’t pay. Likewise, the evening rush would only apply to those who board at one of the stations in question. You could also argue for removing Crystal City, since the trains aren’t particularly crowded along the Yellow-Blue segment there.

However, this doesn’t hit riders who ride all the way through the congested core. They are taking up room on the busiest trains as well, and it makes just as much sense to create an incentive for a Grosvenor-Suitland rider to avoid the busiest times as a Grosvenor-Dupont rider — more, actually.

2. Charge for trips to, from, or through core stations

Another approach, therefore, would be to apply the charge to riders whose trips pass through the busiest stations as well as start or end at them. Then it wouldn’t be necessary to count some more outlying stations like Navy Yard, since anyone going there from or through downtown would pay anyway, and people riding there from Congress Heights aren’t contributing to congestion.

This is the approach I recommended above, and would apply to 17 stations, from Dupont to Union Station on Red, Rosslyn to Capitol South on Orange/Blue, L’Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place on Yellow/Green, and Pentagon on Yellow or Blue.

This would catch the through riders. It would also catch some reverse commuters who aren’t contributing to congestion, like anyone going outbound from Dupont Circle, Pentagon, Rosslyn, or Capitol South, where the trains in that direction aren’t crowded at all.

3. Charge for trips through the busiest segments

A more complex alternative would be to look at the segments themselves; we have Matt Johnson’s analysis of which segments have the highest crowding. We could charge only people who are riding on one of those busiest segments, in the direction(s) where they are busy but not in the reverse direction.

Based on that, we could apply it to Glenmont-bound Red Line trips from Cleveland Park to Gallery Place, Shady-Grove bound trips from Union Station to Farragut North, Orange or Blue Line eastbound trips from Virginia Square to Capitol South, westbound Orange/Blues from Eastern Market to Metro Center, or Yellow trips from Pentagon City to Gallery Place.

Any trip passing through one of those segments would get charged. If WMATA implements this charge by simply looking up the trip in a table of start and end points, it’s technically easy; for any station pair, we can tell whether that trip does or does not pass through that area in the proper direction. However, it’d be confusing to explain to riders.

Therefore, the simplest yet fairest approach would probably be to designate the 17 stations I listed and charge for any trips to, from, or through those stations in the busiest time periods.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.