Transit fare hike's big picture One price fits all: Disparity between city and suburban increases only part of the story.

November 26, 1995

IN NEW YORK, a legal battle is raging over whether city users of mass transit were forced to bear too large a fare increase compared with suburban strap-hangers. Interestingly, here in Baltimore, a similar rate restructuring has barely a flutter.

Under a streamlined rate schedule from the state Mass Transit Administration, Baltimore residents who use the system primarily center city will see their monthly passes rise 29 percent, from $42 to $54. Some suburban users will see a drop in their monthly fare, from $76 to $54.

In New York, a changing of the political guard in Albany paved the way for the suburbs' gain at city users' expense. In Maryland, the state is trying to coax the swelling legions of auto-bound suburbanites to try mass transit. Additionally a complicated zone system is being replaced by a simpler one-price-fits-all fare. A $3 day pass would allow anyone to ride all day.

The new fares should be in place by February. By making the system easier to use, the MTA hopes to tap into the populous suburbs, which house two-thirds of the region's residents but produce only 4 percent of the transit system's riders. And by law, the fare hike is needed to comply with state law that 50 percent of operating expenses be paid through fare box receipts.

The latter half of this decade could favor mass transit if new light rail stations at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the Hunt Valley employment center fulfill their promise. One promising sign was the opening of the Charles Center Metro extension to Johns Hopkins Hopsital last spring. It immediately added 7,000 passengers a day to ridership -- double expectations.

As opposed to New York, the MTA's plan doesn't seem a case of geographic politics. The MTA should be applauded for pursuing a fresh approach to the business of mass transit.

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