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Riders unhappy with Metro's planned fare hike speak up

Tuesday - 2/28/2012, 6:23am  ET

Metro bus (WTOP Photo/Kristi King)
SmarTrip bus riders could pay 10 cents more to ride. (WTOP /Kristi King)
  • Gallery: (3 images)

Michelle Basch, wtop.com
Anna-Lysa Gayle, wtop.com

BETHESDA, Md. - It will cost you more to ride Metro trains and buses starting July 1 if the transit system's leaders get their way.

Metro's proposed $2.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2013 depends on $66 million in fare increases, and $53 million from local jurisdictions.

Under the plan, Metro riders with SmarTrip cards who travel at peak times would pay about 5 percent more than they do now. Bus riders with SmarTrip cards would see a 10-cent fare increase, and the price of parking would increase by 25 cents.

Metro's board is scheduled to adopt the budget in late June, but before that happens riders are getting their say at a series of public hearings.

The first was held Monday night at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.

"Our customers, occasional riders and visitors deserve nothing less than a system befitting the nation's capital," said Metro's Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal in a statement at the start of the hearing.

"Metro has made significant progress on a very aggressive rebuilding program to improve safety (and) reliability, but much more remains to be accomplished," she said.

"Additional revenues are needed to not just continue operations, but to also enhance service and maintain the system to high standards," Kissal added.

A crowd of about 75 people turned out for the hearing, and several took to the microphone to share their concerns.

"Every time fares go up, the service has deteriorated," said rider Dean Wilkinson, who has season tickets to the Nationals.

"I seriously considered not renewing my season tickets because of two things related to Metro," he said.

He's upset that he has to pay peak-of-the-peak prices to get to the games. Also, he said several times it's taken him two or more hours to get home from a Nats game on Metro.

"With an entity so vital as Metro, why are there continual funding challenges?" asked one resident.

"If it was totally possible right now, I would pick myself up and move back to the city of New York," promised another.

The only public official who signed up to speak was Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews.

"The proposed FY '13 budget relies excessively on fare increases to balance it, rather than looking more internally to reducing personnel costs," Andrews says.

Andrews said he thinks Metro needs to do more to "get a handle" on its pension costs.

The next public hearing is Wednesday night in Falls Church.

For details on all the upcoming public hearings, Michelle and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)