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Metro looks at fare increases in 2012

Thursday - 12/1/2011, 2:03pm  ET

Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- It's a familiar story for Metro riders: The cash strapped transit agency is staring down another large budget gap and the riders are being asked to help cover the cost.

The budget gap this time is estimated to be about $124 million for the fiscal year starting in July 2012. Metro Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal said the biggest factor contributing to budget problems is high pension and benefit costs.

At a board meeting Thursday, the transit agency released preliminary numbers that show riders would be asked to cover about half of the cost.

"I will say that fare increases are coming," Kissal told reporters after the meeting. "What we are looking at is to put some of the burden on the riders."

Local jurisdictions will have to individually decide about projects that go beyond the basic Metro services, she said.

They "can decide whether or not they would like to have that investment," Kissal said.

Some of the projects that could be scaled back by jurisdictions to help save costs include hiring more police officers for bus security and cutting back on preventative maintenance for elevators and escalators.

As far as fares are concerned, Kissal says the proposed hikes are not as large as in years past.

"We are looking at maybe a $.10 increase on rail fares, as well as bus fares [for Smartrip users]," she said. "We are also looking at innovative recommendations to fares with respect to tourist visitor zones."

Off-peak fares could also be raised to peak fare levels.

One concept being kicked around is putting a "visitor zone" in place for those who use paper farecards. A boundary would be set up between Rosslyn, Woodley Park, Columbia Heights, Union Station, Stadium-Armory, Anacostia and Reagan National Airport. Those who use paper farecards inside that zone would pay a flat fee of $3. Travel outside that zone using a paper farecard would cost $6.

Fare increase proposals will be presented to the Metro board next month. The earliest any increase would take effect is in July.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)