DC Bus, Metro fares to go up?

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(David Schultz, WAMU) The Board of Directors of Metro, Washington D.C.'s transit system, was scheduled to vote on a package of historically large fare increases and services cuts late last month.

They did not.

Instead they delayed for two weeks a vote on the package, which was meant to close a nearly $200 million shortfall in Metro's budget.

Two weeks later, on May 13, the Metro Board met again. And again, they decided to delay the vote another two weeks to today.

Why does this matter to anyone other than the exasperated journalists whose job requires them to follow Metro's every move? Because the Board is under something of a deadline crunch.

Metro's Deputy General Manager, Carol Kissal, has told the Board Members that her office needs at least 60 days to implement the fare increases they're considering. One of the items in their budget proposal is a measure instituting a fare surcharge on trains during the peak of the rush hour, something Metro has never attempted before.

Kissal says her crew would need to install brand new software in Metro's fareboxes to get this "peak of the peak" fare - as it's known - up and running. That's in addition to the all the signage that needs to go up alerting riders.

The fare hike has to be in place by July 1, the start of Metro's new fiscal year. But Kissal can't move forward until the Board OK's it.

To make matters worse, right after July 1 comes the Independence Day holiday, which, in D.C., is a BIG deal. It's one of Metro's highest ridership periods.

The longer the Board delays voting on this budget, Kissal says, the more likely it is that these new fare hikes won't be in place by then, and Metro would miss out on all that extra revenue. Or, even worse, the new fares could be installed in time but malfunction.

It's understandable why Board Members are reluctant to vote on this budget. It contains fare hikes in excess of 20 percent, and that's an extremely unpopular move to take.

But the possibility of a catastrophic Fourth of July - after everything Metro has been through in the past year - should be enough to scare the Board into action.

Stay tuned.