The WMATA board of directors approved the transit agency's first fare increase in two years at a board meeting heavily attended by disabled users of Metro Access transportation.
Despite the pleas of the physically and developmentally disabled, Metro's board approved a maximum fare of $7 one way for Metro Access. All fares will go up effective July 1: the average rail fare will increase by about 5 percent, ten cents for off peak and fifteen cents for peak times. Bus fares are increasing a dime to $1.60 with SmarTrip cards.
While Metro officials say the agency need the increased revenue to close a budget gap as well as pay for ongoing maintenance costs connected to the agency's six-year capital improvement plan, disabled riders rose from their seats and wheelchairs to tell board members that they simply cannot afford to pay a higher fare. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Metro Access fare may be no more than twice the equivalent fixed route SmarTrip fare based on the fastest trip.
"Please do not raise the fare on us. We have fixed incomes. We have high rent to pay," pleaded Josephine Johnson, who used Metro Access in D.C. "Also, we are disabled, handicapped, and on dialysis."
Disabled Metro riders are also unhappy that their fares remain unpredictable day-to-day. For instance, fares can differ by several dollars for rides scheduled just 15 minutes apart. Metro is attempting to make it easier for disabled riders to shop for the cheapest ride through the use of text messages and the internet, but some riders say technology is of little help.
"Only eight percent of the [disabled rider] community is using the on line reservations that are available to them," said Pat Spray, who sat in his wheelchair throughout the board meeting. "Ninety-two percent of reservations are made by phone, not by internet."
"What the accessibility advisory committee is requesting is that when someone calls, they are given within a thirty minute window the cheapest rate. That doesn't, however, address the fact that the same ride next week at the same time will be a different price."
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said he and the board carefully considered all the public input from a series of hearings on the fare hike proposal, but the agency had to act.
"What the fare increase does is provide additional revenue to us to provide additional rush hour service during the peak period, to improve bus service, and to improve maintenance," said Sarles.
As he waited for his train at the Farragut North station, commuter David Super said he would pay the higher fare, no problem. "With less money service will get even worse. I think their problems show the money is needed."
Others weren't as willing to hand over more cash for their commute. "I think it is despicable because of the customer service that we get," said Gretchen Helm. "They still have no system in place of refunding peoples' money when there is an issue with these smart cards."