Metro’s Fare Policy Principles

June 3rd, 2013

Fare table showing peak-of-the-peak pricing, in effect from August 2010 to June 2012

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:

  1. Ensure and enhance customer satisfaction;
  2. Establish a mechanism to allow customers to determine their fares easily;
  3. Optimize the use of existing capacity;
  4. Establish equitable fares and ensure compliance with federal regulations;
  5. Facilitate movement between modes and operators throughout the region;
  6. Encourage the use of cost-effective media;
  7. 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?



Related Posts:

Categories: Metro 101 > Fares and Service Tags: , , ,
  1. June 3rd, 2013 at 12:20 | #1

    Encourage the use of off-peak capacity through offering unlimited-use passes at various price levels, not just maximum-distance and medium-long distance.

  2. June 3rd, 2013 at 12:23 | #2

    Encourage more transfers between bus and rail by allowing rail pass holders to get the transfer discount when riding buses after riding rail.

  3. June 3rd, 2013 at 12:24 | #3

    Encourage greater use of the combined rail & bus system by increasing the rail-bus transfer discount.

  4. June 3rd, 2013 at 12:25 | #4

    Simplify the fare table at the ticket vending machine by making paper farecards always pay the same fare regardless of time of day.

    Simplify the fare system by making paper farecard users always pay peak fares regardless of time of day. Note on the ticket machines that Smartrip riders get a discount when riding off peak and are eligible for balance protection, etc.

  5. June 3rd, 2013 at 14:23 | #5

    On #2, and the ease of calculating your fare – simplify it!

    This isn’t a communicaton problem, it is a complexity problem. The same current fare system (fares vary by distance and by time of day) could be a whole lot simpler than it is. Say you round every fare to the nearest quarter or 50 cents; that alone would tremendously simplify the calculation of fares. You end up with fewer possible permutations for the fare between two stations.

    Also, more unlimited use passes at more price points is a must. The short-trip rail pass is a good start, but that rail pass should also include bus travel; and that pass should be available at other price points. Right now, it makes little sense for someone to buy it unless their daily one-way commute is $3.50 or more. If the pass were available for equivalent trips for $2.25, or $2.75 trips, then more people would take advantage. For regular commuters, offering more weekly pass price points means more people would get off-peak travel for ‘free,’ thereby encouraging more off-peak ridership (hitting goal #3)

    On #5, all transfers should be free. Similarly, integrating bus use into the rail passes is a must.

  6. June 3rd, 2013 at 15:22 | #6

    @Alex B: I think this is an argument we’ve been having for a number of years now, but since few people pay for rail fares with dollars and coins, I think the rounding is not that big a gain in simplicity.

    I much prefer my current $4.05 to whatever Metro is likely to round (up!) to.

    For paper farecard customers, they’re just going to look at their destination on a table and find the corresponding price.

  7. June 3rd, 2013 at 15:31 | #7

    Basically, do it exactly like London. Keep distance-based but simplify it according to a zone system (I’m not sure how many would be justified, I can imagine anything from 4 to 7 pricing zones). Make all paper farecards the same cost per trip every time, but make that pretty high to discourage use.

    But so you don’t trap people in an endless cycle of spending one way or the other, provide a mechanism by which you say, buy a SmarTrip for a $3 deposit, and then you may turn the SmarTrip back in when you leave (especially true if you’re a tourist, whom I assume are the most reluctant to buy them) and receive that money back (a la the Oystercard).

    Also, zones would allow you to offer a sliding scale of actually-useful passes. A zone 1-only, a pass good for zones 1-3, etc., with the difference (if any; e.g., you’re taking a rare trip out to zone 4) coming out of a prepaid balance. That way we could basically have a core-only monthly pass for something like $100, which would be phenomenal.

  8. June 3rd, 2013 at 15:32 | #8

    I would think that to meet #1 and #2, Metro should adopt a flat fare. No more distance-based fares, but rather, charge a flat fare for a ride. This is Boston’s fare chart:

    Metro should consider similar.

  9. June 3rd, 2013 at 15:34 | #9

    Oh, and duh, echoing everyone else, rail to bus transfers should be free, and in order to not penalize people who can’t necessarily afford to live next to Metro stations, bus-to-rail should be heavily discounted if not also free.

    And speaking of stupid penalties, there needs to be a grace period for entering and exiting a station before you’re charged. For instance, if you enter a station and leave the same one within 20 or 30 minutes, no charge. I mean, come on, with headways what they are, there’s no way that’s enough time to go anywhere, much less come back.

  10. June 3rd, 2013 at 15:34 | #10

    The “Smart Passes” concept addresses all of these fare principles, by the way.

  11. June 3rd, 2013 at 15:40 | #11

    @Ben Schumin
    The problem with that, Ben, is that the longest trip you can take on the T is around 17 miles on the Red Line from Alewife to Braintree. Metro’s Red Line, on the other hand, is 31 miles long. WMATA’s Yellow Line is the shortest at 15, but that doesn’t include Fort Totten to Greenbelt.

    Basically, it isn’t fair to charge people living in DC the same as those coming from Vienna or Franconia or Shady Grove (unless of course the DC folks are traveling out to those places).

  12. Michael
    June 3rd, 2013 at 15:42 | #12

    @Ben Schumin
    In the paragraph above on fare equity, we linked to a great analysis done by GGW of flat fares for metro:

  13. Matt Dickens
    June 3rd, 2013 at 16:25 | #13

    1. Increase the bus-rail transfer discount to $1 or more to encourage more transfers and use of the bus system

    2. More passes like the “smart passes” concept detailed by Michael Perkins which basically already exists with PugetPass: – it works similarly to the newly introduced short trip pass on smartrip, but you pick the fare you want and it should work on bus too.

    3. Paper farecards pay the peak fare at all times. SmarTrip cards from the machine should be priced at cost+included value, and Metro should look for cheaper contactless cards.

Comments are closed.