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Fare Hikes Discussed At Metro Board Meeting

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Metro's board met Thursday, and the main item on the agenda was the budget. The proposal, from Metro manager Richard Sarles, calls for hiring 1,000 workers to bolster the system's maintenance and safety efforts, and also proposes hikes in fares.

The fare plan, released Tuesday, raise rail fares by 5 percent for most riders. It would also introduce a flat fare for rail riders who use paper tickets, setting a $4 fare for off-peak hours, and a $6 fare for paper tickets during peak hours.

Fare increases would include not just rail service, but buses and parking as well. MetroBus fares would increase by 10 cents, and parking fees would increase by 25 cents.

Federally appointed board member Mortimer Downey said during Thursday's meeting that he's supportive of most of the fare increases -- but he added the flat paper ticket fees would be asking occasional riders to pay the highest fees in the entire system.

"If I were faced with that choice, I would say, 'How much is a cab?'" said Downey.

Sarles' $1.6 billion budget would also allow the system to hire more than 1000 new people, 33 percent of whom will help Metro get ready for the opening of the new Silver line to Tysons Corner in two years.

At Metro's finance committee meeting Thursday, some board members said Sarles needs to find a way to fill existing vacancies first. Sarles told them hiring has been accelerated, and so far the system has found other ways to make up for a shortage of manpower.

"We've backfilled a lot of it with overtime, and we've also used overtime to do a lot of the accelerated construction," Sarles said. "We're trying to step back from that and bring in additional people to moderate the use of overtime."

Metro's customers seem to have mixed feelings about how much more they should have to pay. Outside the Metro after the meeting, Doug Hunter said this isn't the first rate increase he's seen, and since Metro isn't getting enough support from local governments, he's happy to pay.

"Service isn't great sometimes, but it's the best thing we got -- the only thing we got," said Hunter.

Nearby, Stephanie Westbrook disagreed: "Lot more voices need to be heard about this, because that increase is obnoxious." Westbrook and other customers will get a chance to weigh in on the proposal during public hearings scheduled for late February.

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