Thursday, December 14, 2006

Metro's Fare Increase & Incentive Package: A Good Start

Judging by the hysterical reaction on DCist, you'd think Metro was proposing to extract a pound of flesh at each faregate. But I'm going to make the radical argument that the transit agency's plan to increase some fares and create new rider incentives seems not just reasonable, but overdue.

Metro faces two major problems, one financial, and one social. While the causes are beyond the reach of 15 cent fare hikes and such, this package seeks to address the effects of both.

There is only one major transit system in the country that lacks a dedicated government revenue stream. There is only one major transit system in the country that serves three states/districts in very similar proportions. Metro.

This year, Congress, DC, Maryland, and Virginia came closer than ever to agreeing on a dedicated funding source, but
Virginia Republicans killed the deal. Lacking that funding source, fare hikes are Metro's quickest way to balance its budget is to raise fares. It's not necessarily the easiest, as the public backlash shows, but that Metro is willing to take that heat shows how tight its budget is.

More radical are the financial incentives for commuters to avoid riding during peak hours (5-9:30am or 3-7pm). I do agree with critics who say commuters are at the mercy of their bosses, and that the fare incentives target the thousands of ants marching and not The Man who decides when they work. But the suggested fare incentives are a nudge, not a shove, and hopefully employers and the federal government will take notice.

The overcrowding issues on both Metro and our region's roads are frequently and wrongly labeled as capacity problems. They're not. Metro is half-empty for 18 hours a day, as are all but the most congested local roads like I66 or the Beltway.

The traffic is a result of a social problem -- every employer asking all of their workers to come in at the same time, then telling all of their workers to leave at the same time. As a result, we make extremely inefficient use of our transportation systems.

Aside from high-tech companies, both private employers and government agencies have resisted telecommuting, and individual commuters are left to arrange their own lives around a reverse commute or fight their bosses to let them work a 7-3pm or 11-7pm shift. I pitched something similar to my boss once and was quickly shot down with, "I need you here when I'm here." Nice to know I'm wanted, but what am I, her favorite teddy bear?

It's sad that it's fallen to Metro to try to address decades of short-sighted choices, shirked responsibilies, and failed leadership. But as DC's growth continues, commuters are going to have to let go of the idea that one lane of highway or one rail car should be exclusively theirs to zip straight to work at their chosen time.

And before you accuse me of being a Metro apologist, don't forget Festivus came early this year when I aired my grievances against the system back in July.


Eric said...

Interesting argument, Miles - aren't you afraid that the increased fares are going to worsen the "social problem"? How much is increased advertising in Metro an option? I know a lot of people are against those, but personally I prefer those to fare hikes.

The Green Miles said...

Sorry if I was unclear -- the social problem is everyone trying to go to work at peak times. The new fare system is designed try to remedy this by encouraging off-peak ridership. And Metro already has ramped up advertising ...

Anonymous said...

I agree this seems like a reasonable start. And it would be nice to have a more flexible schedule at work. And that inflexibility is not metro's fault. And what is up with Virginia not coughing up some money. They are being freeloaders.

Anonymous said...

Commuting sucks any way you look at it, but that's what you have when you live in an area like this.

Personally I hate metro, it takes me just as long to say - drive to a station (since I don't have one to walk to) or ride a bus to one, wait, get on the metro, and get to my destination as it did for me to sit in traffic. Now, sure I can read or sleep or whatever on public transportation - but sometimes I just like to be in my own little world in my car and listen to my music and drive along...even if it's slow.

I definitely agree that people should be more open to telecommuting, or even flextime or compressed workweeks. But, I'm not the boss.

Unknown said...

Why should people who are already part of the solution have to be further burdened by Metro's woes? Shouldn't the people who don't use Metro be "penalized" instead? A small gas tax of 1 cent per gallon could probably solve a lot of the problems. Or make it higher to encourage people to take public trans. But charging people 35 cents because they use a peak station...ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

I see this fare hike as more of a problem related to Metro management's ineptness, lack of vision, and inability to keep costs adequately under control. And as a resident of Virginia, I applaud our elected representatives for recognizing a bad situation when they see one and refusing to give more money to a system that doesn't deserve it.

Equipment failures. Unreliable transportation. Train operators that don't know the meaning of the phrase "smooth ride". Lazy employees that just hang around platforms without doing anything. Beggars accosting you, asking for spare change-- and Metro employees that refuse to do anything to remove these people. Management that couldn't lead their way out of a paper bag. That's Metro, in a nutshell.

I ride Metro every day now, by choice. After January 6, though, I probably won't. I'll probably take back to the streets and drive my car in to work. Screw Metro.