How are Metrorail Fares Calculated?

November 15th, 2012

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.

Peak Off-Peak
Flat fare for first 3 miles of travel $2.10 $1.70
Incremental fare for additional miles above 3 and up to 6 $0.316/mile $0.237/mile
Incremental fare for additional miles above 6 $0.280/mile $0.210/mile
Maximum fare cap, regardless of distance $5.75 $3.50

This fare structure accomplishes the Metro Board’s fare policy principle of providing equitable fares (longer distances pay more) while keeping fares reasonable.

A note on mileage:  The mileage used in fare calculations is a “composite” mileage between each station pair.  The composite mileage is the average of the track miles between any two stations (the miles the train must travel) and the straight line distance (or “as the crow files” distance).  As such, trips between stations that are geographically close but require long travel distances on Metrorail are discounted.  For example, Wheaton and White Flint both on the Red Line are approximately 3.5 miles apart using straight line miles, but a trip between them on Metrorail is nearly 24 miles.  Therefore, the fares between these two stations are based on the composite mileage of approximately 13.75 miles.

A note on off-peak fare calculations:  This new (as of July 2012) off-peak fare structure was designed to be a 25% discount off of the peak fares. The change from the old three-tiered fare structure to the new one resulted in some possible trip distances having very large increases between the old and new fares. To lessen the impact of a large off-peak fare increase for some riders, the percent increase between 2010 and 2012 off-peak fares was capped at 27%. You can see the adjustment made to the fares to cap the percentage increase at 27% in the “lumpiness” of the green “off-peak fare” line in the chart above.

Related Posts:

  1. David Stallings
    February 19th, 2013 at 09:11 | #1

    How much is the normal rush hour metrorail fare between Crystal City and Smithsonian stations.

  2. Michael
    February 19th, 2013 at 11:05 | #2

    Hi, David:

    All Metrorail fares can be calculated on our website. First choose the origin station from our stations list:

    Then at the station page, select the destination station in the drop-down box under the heading “Metrorail Fares.” For Crystal City, it’s on this page;

    The peak fares for Crystal City to Smithsonian is $2.20, and the off-peak fare is $1.75. The Senior/Disabled fare is $1.10.

  3. Rodney Jones
    October 13th, 2013 at 21:12 | #3

    Handicapped, leaving DC 11/23/13, will need access railride to Union Station.

  4. Bethany
    December 3rd, 2014 at 14:24 | #4

    How can I obtain information such as the above graph, for years, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, etc? I am doing a cost benefit analysis on the Red line for a graduate class, and want to see how the price changes have effected carpooling.

  5. Michael
    December 3rd, 2014 at 14:29 | #5

    Hi, Bethany:

    You can download the Metrorail fare history from the WMATA public records web page:

    I believe you can pull the station-to-station composite miles from the WMATA Developer’s API:

    Let me know if you have any additional questions.

  6. Bethany
    December 3rd, 2014 at 14:47 | #6

    Wow, awesome! Thank you

  7. Bethany
    December 11th, 2014 at 13:35 | #7

    Hi Michael,

    I am still working on this cost benefit analysis for my grad paper. I have found a couple discrepencies with the Red Line renovation budget. One article I read (Washington Post) said the budget was $177mil and four years later, another article said that the budget for Red Line renovation was over 5 billion. Quite the contrast. I have also looked at the budgets for the Red Line during the years 2009-2012 and I do not see renovation costs in the budget, which makes me think that it was a separate project with separate financing. Is there anyway you can email me some possible areas to look for this data? Without the data, my analysis will be mainly speculatory.

  8. Bethany
    December 11th, 2014 at 13:36 | #8

    Im sorry, I meant to reply to your comment, not my own.

  9. Michael
    December 11th, 2014 at 13:49 | #9

    Hi, Bethany.

    The NBC article refers to the whole MetroForward capital campaign, only a part of which is the Red Line rehab. Stick with the $177M number and you’ll be okay.

Comments are closed.