Metro: America’s Most Expensive Subway

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    It’s my final semester at George Mason next spring, and I’ll be commuting downtown part-time in what will add up to a horrifying exercise in Metro fare. You might have noticed your morning Metro ride has been a bit more crowded lately–more and more are using transit in the DC region, especially for suburb-to-city commutes. We are being rewarded for record transit use with spiraling fare increases and budget shortfalls. It’s no illusion. Metro is now the most expensive heavy rail system in America, in terms of fare paid per passenger mile.

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    According to my analysis of National Transit Database data, we Metro users pay more in fare per passenger mile than any other heavy rail system in America, and have faced a staggering increase far outpacing the rest of the nation’s systems. Passengers also shoulder 63% of the operating costs of Metro, the third highest in the nation.

    On top of that, there is virtually no benefit to being a local. No monthly passes exist for Metro. For the vast majority of commuters, they pay the sticker price that transient tourists pay, a burden those in New York or Boston are able to escape with substantial discounts on weekly and monthly passes.

    Meanwhile, Metro limps along as the only major transit agency without a dedicated source of funding, and has to beg for scraps every single year–and there’s nothing we can do until legislators from the rest of Virginia and Maryland buckle down and do something about it. Governor McDonnell’s knuckleheaded game of chicken with Virginia’s funding share almost cost us billions this summer. DC commuters will bend over and prepare to take the next inevitable round of fare increase, with nobody but rural General Assembly members and the wrathful vengeance of our angry transit gods to call to for help.

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    • Kenton Ngo for Metro board! 🙂

    • SterlingNorth

      There’s one important piece of the story you don’t mention, which probably explains everything about fare price on Metro — SmartBenefits. The Federal Government subsidizes transit use — this year by $230 a month. Of course, this employer transit benefit is available to most employers, but the Federal Government is probably the biggest offerer and Federal employees pretty much know it’s available to them. So they don’t feel the full cost of Metro, as as they are the biggest percentage of Metro users by far, outrage against fare increases are far more muted than they would be otherwise.

      Greater Greater Washington looked at this in some detail earlier this year.

    • blue bronc

      My daily costs went up about 40%.  I’m right around $15.40 per day with parking. A little lower if I can hang around a bar for an hour and avoid the “peak of the peak” fares. And, I don’t get SmartBenefits either.

    • SterlingNorth

      I can’t say for sure, but compared to most other big city bus systems with bus fares starting at $2 (New York’s MTA charges $2.25 for a regular bus), Metrobus’ are probably among the cheapest at $1.70 ($1.50 for Smartrip). This is likely because of efforts by DC’s members on the board, who see the bus users as the more economically disadvantaged of the transit users in the region (see also: $1 fare on the Circulator). I suspect they see that the subway and the parking structures are used by the more wealthy suburban users. This type of fight is seen all of the time in fare discussions by the WMATA board.