Photo by SliceofNYC.

Metro’s fare structure came under some criticism in the Post recently. A Sunday editorial argues that bus fares need to rise, while Dr. Gridlock says they are too complicated.

Both cite other systems including New York’s, where all rides in the five boroughs, on rail, bus or a combination, all cost $2.25. The doc suggests we would never adopt such a system because Metro is “resistant to change” and such changes would “launch political wars.” If politics weren’t an issue, is New York’s flat fare what Metro should aspire to?

No, it shouldn’t. While a flat fare is appealing, Metro fundamentally fills a different role in the region than the New York City Subway. The subway only goes to the five boroughs. Commuters from Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester, and Connecticut ride three different commuter rail systems, whose fares, like Metro’s, are based on distance and in most cases on peak vs. off-peak as well. New Jersey Transit’s fares, for example, range from $1.50 to $16.50.

If Metro were like the New York subway, it’d only go to destinations in DC and Arlington, and everyone from Maryland and elsewhere in Virginia would ride a much-expanded MARC and VRE. Those riders would have to change to Metro at Union Station or L’Enfant Plaza, like commuter rail riders have to change at Penn Station, Grand Central, Flatbush Avenue, or Hoboken (for PATH to NYC).

As Matt Johnson explained, Metro is a different type of system than the New York subway, a “regional rail” system more analogous to BART and just as close to SEPTA’s regional rail commuter trains (fares $3.50-$18.00) as to the Philadelphia Market-Frankford Line ($2.00 cash, $1.45 with token). Matt also created a detailed chart comparing fares in various U.S. rail transit systems.

Sure, Metro’s fare could be simpler. We could switch to a zone system like London’s. Inevitably, some people’s rides would get cheaper and some more expensive. But it’s worth investigating, and a more sensible and appropriate simplification than a flat fare.

Next: Are bus rides too cheap?

Tagged: fares, new york, wmata

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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 in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.