>I was reading the metro rider’s advisory council (RAC) reports to the DC Metro (WMATA) board, and was please to see that not only did my public comments concerning the recent fare increase get read, they were published as the first of five public comments listed in the report. My comment is below:
“Increasing the high cost recovery ratio of Metrorail means that more peak customers pay over and above the cost of their trip, which is the wrong policy for reducing congestion, pollution and energy use”
I’ll explain my comment further. Like many transit systems, WMATA publishes cost recovery ratios in its budget reports. The cost recovery ratio is the fraction of operating costs that are paid for in the form of fares. WMATAs cost recovery ratios (especially Metrorail) are higher than is typical for most transit systems for a number of reasons: traffic congestion, lack of downtown parking, and especially the transit subsidy provided to federal and other workers. These factors make the transit system more desirable than would otherwise be the case. The subsidy means that the cost borne by the rider is smaller.
Currently, WMATA is reporting a cost recovery of 77% for all Metrorail operations. They also state that operating a Metrorail car costs $8.30 per mile, and that Metrorail fares are about 25 cents per mile. This means that any Metrorail car with more than about 30 people in it on average is more than paying its way. During rush hour, more than 150 people are in a rail car, and those people are paying steeper premium fares for rush hour.
I framed my comments to the board in terms of the balance between the operating subsidy and the fare increase. My comment was that the subsidy should be increased or at least keep pace with the growth in fares due to the reductions in congestion, pollution and energy use, reductions that help the local jurisdictions meet the goals that were in mind when the Metro system was built and expanded.
Let’s compare two commuters. A drive has to pay for the vehicle and gasoline, including a gasoline tax that pays for a portion of the construction and maintenance costs of the road network. Other operating costs of their trip are typically subsidized, including local roads, police presence for local roads, operation and maintenance of traffic signaling and parking, unless the driver parks in a commercial garage with no special deal based on their employment.
On the other hand, the peak rail rider has to pay the fare, which by my previous argument pays for more than his costs for vehicle maintenance, propulsion power, policing, terminal (station) maintenance, etc.
We’re going to ignore the construction cost of both systems since they’re large and paid for outside of each commuter’s marginal cost.
I think this is backward. The car driver is subsidized through general taxes, while the peak rail rider is paying more than operating cost.