Metrorail’s distance-based fare structure is the most equitable.
Excerpt of Metrorail distance-based fare table.
Metrorail is one of only three heavy rail systems in the United States with distance-based fares. (BART and PATCO are the other two.) And to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only one with peak and off-peak fares. With 86 stations (soon to be 91) and two fare time-periods (it used to be three), the average rider has a large number of possible fare combinations.
The benefits of Metrorail’s existing fare structure are many-fold, but chief among them are equity, efficiency, and economics.
The fare structure is fair. Distance-based and time-of-day fares allow transit riders to pay fares in proportion to the level of service they’re using. Peak period riders pay more and have more frequent service. Short distance travel is less expensive than long-distance. With flat fares, those who take short trips subsidize those who take longer trips, and people who ride during times of reduced service subsidize those who ride during the peaks when trains are most frequent. With zone-based fares, customers taking short trips that cross a zone boundary pay a larger fare than other customers taking longer trips entirely within a zone boundary.
The fare structure is equitable. A switch from distance-based to flat-fare that was revenue neutral (not losing money) would raise a Title VI equity concern. Planning staff have done a preliminary analysis, and such a switch would have a disproportionate burden on low-income riders. A switch to flat fares that was not revenue neutral would result in higher subsidies from Metro’s funding partners
The fare structure promotes economic efficiency. People use resources more efficiently if they’re priced to reflect the value of the resource. Economists love variably priced roads like the Intercounty Connector (MD-200) and the I-495 Express Lanes, as the per-mile prices are set to keep traffic flowing. The same concept applies to Metrorail’s distance-based and peak/off-peak fares. Read more…
Metro seeks to reduce delays to Metrobus caused by on-board SmarTrip card loading by installing off-board SmarTrip® Recharge Stations at key locations across the region.
Metro has been quite successful at increasing the use of SmarTrip® card usage on both bus and rail. As noted in a previous post, many initiatives — including surcharges for paying cash — have been successful at raising the the SmarTrip® use rate to about 90% on both Metrorail and Metrobus. As many readers have noted, many Metrobus customers load small amounts of cash — enough for one or two trips — onto their SmarTrip card in order to avoid the surcharge. This on-board load transaction can take between five and 30 seconds and, on average, one out of every 14 trips on Metrobus involves a small value load. On some routes it’s as frequent as one out of every seven. This behavior results in longer dwell times, slower rides, and less efficient operations of Metrobus.
One possible solution is to increase the opportunities for loading value onto SmarTrip cards before the customer boards. While SmarTrip cards can be reloaded online, at Metrorail stations and at a variety of retail outlets around the region, the frequency of on-board loading indicates the need for additional, convenient opportunities to add value to SmarTrip cards.
Example of potential SmarTrip Reload Station size and location. Image updates every 5 seconds. Click image for larger version.
Metro is seeking to meet this need by developing and deploying SmarTrip Recharge Stations (SRS) at selected bus stops around the region. In addition to facilitating the loading of fares and passes to SmarTrip cards and working with Metro’s current back-end systems, the requirements for these recharging stations include: Read more…
Metrorail charges you the lowest possible fare, even if other trips that seem longer are less expensive.
Recently a Twitter user asked a simple question: when traveling from King St-Old Town why does it cost more to travel to McPherson Sq than to Metro Center? As a straight shot on the Blue Line, McPherson Sq is closer than Metro Center, so why is the trip to Metro Center cheaper?
We recently described how Metrorail fares are calculated. However, the previous post failed to mention is that when there are two or more routes to travel between any pair of stations Metro uses the least expensive one.
For the example above, there are a few routes to travel between King St-Old Town and McPherson Sq. The shortest trip when considering the miles on the railway is to take Yellow to L’Enfant Plaza and then transfer to Blue or Orange, which results in 8.12 miles and a peak fare of $3.65. The fare to Metro Center is only $3.55, because it is only 7.82 miles from King St-Old Town via L’Enfant Plaza. For a rider taking the Blue Line to McPherson Sq, it might seem unfair that customers traveling one additional stop pay $0.10 less. Read more…
Metro first rolled out SmarTrip® on rail in 1999, breaking new ground as the first contact-less smart card used for transit in the United States. Metro began rolling out SmarTrip® on bus in 2002 and then to Metrorail parking facilities in 2004. While the utility of SmarTrip® was immediately obvious to many customers, others required a bit of encouragement to switch to the fare media that is most cost-effective for Metro and customers alike.
Usage of SmarTrip® on rail has been growing steadily since its launch, but use on bus seemed to plateau around 20% on bus starting in about July 2006 until about January 2008. That was the date when Metro began its first major initiative to encourage people to move to SmarTrip by implementing a $0.10 surcharge for using cash on bus.
Since then, Metro has rolled out new SmarTrip features and additional incentives to continue the increase in SmarTrip use rate.
The chart below illustrates the changes in SmarTrip use rate on both bus and rail, overlaid with the dates of the initiatives and feature releases that helped motivate customers to switch to SmarTrip. The usage rate now is nearly 90% on both bus and rail! Read more…
Fare table showing peak-of-the-peak pricing, in effect from August 2010 to June 2012
In a recent post we described how Metrorail fares are calculated. The previous post noted that Metro’s Fare Policy Principles have established guidelines for how fares are structured. When it is time to evaluate changes to Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroAccess fares, Metro staff revisit the fare policy principles to look for guidance.
Metro Fare Policy Principles, adopted November 18, 2010:
- Ensure and enhance customer satisfaction;
- Establish a mechanism to allow customers to determine their fares easily;
- Optimize the use of existing capacity;
- Establish equitable fares and ensure compliance with federal regulations;
- Facilitate movement between modes and operators throughout the region;
- Encourage the use of cost-effective media;
- Generate adequate revenue while maximizing ridership;
The challenge for Metro staff is to explore fare concepts that strike balance between the different principles. For example, Metro uses surcharges to encourage use of SmarTrip™ which is our most cost-effective fare media (principle #6), but the surcharges provide challenges to easily determined fares (principle #2).
Note that Metro’s distance-based fares are considered more equitable than flat fares. Average income increases with distance from the core in the Washington region, so a flat fare would result in the highest per-mile fares for those groups who are the least able to pay them. Metro’s Board of Directors understands this and has emphasized fare equity (principle #4) as one of its top priorities.
Many other aspects of the current bus, rail and paratransit fares reflect these principles:
- Surcharges for not using SmarTrip™: Metro charges $1 per trip for using paper farecards on rail and $0.25 per trip for using cash on the bus. These surcharges have helped push usage of SmarTrip™ up to about 90%, resulting in the reduction of fare collection costs.
- Different fares on different levels of service: Metro charges $1.60 base fare for local and MetroExtra services. Buses that travel long distances on freeway lanes cost users a higher fare ($3.65) to correspond with the greater travel speeds. Metro’s longest distance bus routes, which travel to Dulles and BWI airports, charge a $6 fare per trip.
- MetroAccess fares are priced at twice the fixed route fare with a cap at $7. This fare structure is intended to encourage use of the existing fixed route capacity Metro offers, which are available to MetroAccess-eligible customers free of charge.
- The peak-of-the-peak (POP) rail fare surcharge, enacted in August of 2010, charged customers an extra $0.20 to enter the system during the peak 90-minute periods during the AM and PM peak. This surcharge was another example of using fares to “optimize the use of existing capacity.” However, riders informed Metro this fare concept impacted fare policy principles #1 and #2, customer satisfaction and allowing customers to easily determine fares. In the end, these two policy principles won out and the POP surcharge was eliminated starting July 1, 2012.
What fare concepts might help better align Metro’s fares with the fare policy principles? What ideas have other agencies implemented that you’d like to be considered for Metro?
FY13 Metrorail Fares by Composite Mileage
Unlike older subway systems in the United States, Metrorail uses “distance-based” fares, meaning the farther you travel, the more you pay. While a flat-fare system may be simpler, Metro has established fare policy principles that put a priority on equity rather than simplicity.
Peak Fares: Peak rail fares are based on distance traveled (calculated to the one-hundredth of a mile). The first three miles have one base fare, the next three miles have an incremental fare per mile, and smaller incremental fare is charged for the remaining distance. The resulting fare is rounded to the nearest $0.05 and is then capped at $5.75. The peak fares are show in the chart above as the blue line.
Off Peak Fares: Prior to July 2012, Metro peak fares and off-peak fares were calculated differently. Off-peak fares were fixed at three tier-based fares: short, medium and long-distance trips. This presentation on the development of a fare model (PDF) describes the old fare structure in detail. The most recent fare increase changed the off-peak fare structure to be more like the peak fare structure, with off-peak fares generally a 25% reduction from peak fares. Current off-peak fares are show in the chart above as the green line.
The table below shows the peak and off-peak fare increments for Metro’s non-discounted full fares. Senior citizens and DC students, for example, receive fare discounts.
Table 1: Metrorail “full fare” fare structure, FY13.
|Flat fare for first 3 miles of travel
|Incremental fare for additional miles above 3 and up to 6
|Incremental fare for additional miles above 6
|Maximum fare cap, regardless of distance
This fare structure accomplishes the Metro Board’s fare policy principle of providing equitable fares (longer distances pay more) while keeping fares reasonable. Read more…