Fare increase of 5% pondered for riders on MARC's trains

March 06, 1991|By Doug Birch

The 16,500 daily riders of Maryland Rail Commuter trains could face a 5 percent fare increase late this summer, state transportation officials said yesterday.

Ronald J. Hartman, state mass transit administrator, said he planned to "consider" seeking a 5 percent raise in fares for the heavily used commuter line that provides daily service between Washington's Union Station and Baltimore's Camden and Pennsylvania stations. The MARC service also runs trains along the Potomac River between Washington and Brunswick in Frederick County.

The state has not released a list of proposed fares. But if the 5 percent were applied across the board, it would raise the cost of a one-way ticket between Baltimore and Washington from $5 to $5.25; a round-trip from $9 to $9.45; and a monthly pass from $110 to $115.50. The cost of a monthly pass between Brunswick and Washington would rise from $126 to $132.30.

Mr. Hartman said the fares needed to be reviewed because "certainly, state railroad costs have gone up. Periodically, there is a need to increase the user fees to compensate for that."

While fare increases often scare away public transit riders, Mr. Hartman doubted that would happen with the MARC system, which saw an 88 percent increase in passengers between 1987 and 1990.

The most recent MARC fare increases were in 1985 and 1988, when they rose by 8 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

To meet heavy demand from riders and reduce the number of standing-room-only trains, the state is purchasing 37 new or refurbished passenger cars and hopes to take delivery on all of them by the end of the summer. That would increase its MARC fleet from 65 to 102 cars.

The state also plans to start running six MARC trains a day between Perryville and Washington on May 1.

While state law requires MARC to recover at least 50 percent of its operating costs from fares, a report by legislative budget analysts said the system earned 59 percent of those costs in the year ending June 30, 1990.

Joseph Nessel, director of passenger services for MARC, said yesterday that it would take about three months to implement any fare increase once it was formally proposed.

A series of hearings would have to be held on the new fares, he said. And they would have to be approved by the secretary of transportation, the governor and the Interstate Commerce Commission, which controls freight track shared by some of the trains.

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