Plan would increase MTA fares

Proposal calls for raising rates on light rail, subway, buses by 15 cents on July 1

February 05, 2003|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Bus, subway and light rail fares would go up 15 cents - to $1.50 - starting July 1 under a plan being considered by the Maryland Transit Administration, officials said yesterday. The plan calls for even steeper increases for riders of MARC trains and commuter buses.

The proposed fare increase occurs as the MTA is eliminating or reducing service on about a dozen bus lines and as new services are being postponed to deal with the state's budget shortfall. It would be the first fare increase since 1996.

MTA spokeswoman Suzanne Bond would not confirm the proposed increase, but key MTA officials said the plan is so far along that public hearings are being scheduled for spring. Maryland Rail Commuter service and commuter bus fares would go up about 10 percent.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s budget for the MTA "assumes increases in transit fares across the state," according to a budget summary. The fare increase is built into the MTA's operating budget for next year; if fares aren't raised, the MTA will have to make further service cuts.

"This is something that was generated at the MTA level and was not a proposal the governor initiated," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. "It's not something the governor particularly embraces, but we are in austere times, and we have to deal with the cards we've been dealt."

The 15-cent increase would bring in about $5.1 million annually, the MTA estimates. The agency is looking at other options for coming up with that money, such as selling more ads on buses and increasing parking rates at MTA-owned garages, said Jack Cahalan, a state transportation spokesman. The MTA began planning for the fare increase last fall, he said.

"The proposal is certainly alive, but there is no final decision," he said. The state estimates the fare increase would increase the MTA's fare box recovery ratio - the amount passengers contribute to the total cost of operating the system - from 35 percent to 40 percent. The total number of "boardings" for MTA buses, subway and light rail is 335,000 per weekday.

Transit advocates said the state should not place such a financial burden on those who can least afford it. They said a transit fare increase should be tied to a gasoline tax increase.

"It's outrageous to have a fare increase and cutback in service in the same year," said Brent Flickinger, transportation director for the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. "Everybody needs to take a hit, but let's not disproportionately impact the thousands of people who need [transit] to get to jobs and to health care services."

The governor's proposed operating budget for the MTA provides for a slight increase - from $400 million this year to $400.7 million in the year beginning July 1.

The MTA has put on hold plans to expand its neighborhood shuttle program.

Starting July 1, the MTA will eliminate two commuter buses - one that runs from Annapolis to Bethesda and one that runs from Kent Island to Annapolis to Baltimore. Commuter buses run longer distances between different regions of the state.

The MTA also is scrapping the No. 86 bus line, which runs from Social Security in Woodlawn to Towson.

Officials noted that other transit agencies are raising fares to cope with budget deficits. The Washington Metro plans to raise bus fares from $1.10 to $1.30 and subway fares from $1.10 to $1.40.

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