The WMATA Board just unanimously approved a budget including a large fare hike but no service cuts.
The decision came very swiftly after a 3-hour “lunch break.” Oddly, when members returned to the room their bellies didn’t seem to have grown as much as one would expect for people who’ve been eating for three hours.
Could they have been debating budget issues over lunch, not even in an executive session? Reporters asked Mr. Benjamin about it right after the session, who confirmed they had been negotiating and defended the process.
The agreement includes some additional fare hikes above what was being discussed last week, but eliminates all service cuts. I’m not sure if those cuts include Maryland’s “extra cuts” proposed for bus service, especially in Prince George’s County, to balance their portion of the budget in lieu of extra contributions. I’m also not sure if the “good” service changes, like the Red Line restructuring to better match the actual schedule, was considered a cut or not.
Fare increases include the 20¢ peak-of-the-peak rail surcharge, applied to all trips for 1½ hours in morning and evening, plus an additional 5¢ across-the-board increase in the base rush hour fare (from $1.35 to $1.60, instead of $1.55 previously proposed), but the maximum fare will be the same $5 (up from $4.50) in the last few budget proposals.
They increase the differential between SmarTrip and cash fares on bus to 20¢.
I don’t know if that means the SmarTrip fare went down or the cash fare went up. (Probably the latter.) The cash fare increased more. Bus fares went from $1.35 to $1.50 with SmarTrip, $1.45 to $1.70 cash.
MetroAccess will have a fare cap of $7. Reserved parking will increase from $50/month to $65/month but regular parking does not change. Bike locker rentals will increase from $75/year to $200/year.
At first blush, this seems to be a bad set of changes for short-range riders, but we’ll post more as it develops.