>Why is WMATA so expensive? Because it’s required by the compact.
WMATA is the quasi-governmental organization established by DC, Maryland and Virginia to build, maintain and operate transit systems in the region. This is a quote from the compact:
With due regard for the policy of Congress for financing a mass transit plan for the Zone set forth in Section 204(g) of the National Capital Transportation Act of 1960 (74 Stat. 537), it is hereby declared to be the policy of this Title that, as far as possible, the payment of all costs shall be borne by the persons using or benefiting from the Authority’s facilities and services and any remaining costs shall be equitably shared among the federal, District of Columbia and participating local governments in the Zone. The allocation among such governments of such remaining costs shall be determined by agreement among them and shall be provided in the manner hereinafter specified.
So basically, WMATA is required to try to drive up the cost recovery ratio as high as possible, then pass on the rest of the costs to the member jurisdictions. While this keeps the costs to member jurisdictions down, it means that the riders have very high costs compared to other systems. As I’ve said before, Metrorail cost recovery ratios are above 80%, compared to 30-50% for other systems.
Alternatively, you could argue that all drivers in the region benefit from the transit facilities and services, and should therefore pay for their operation through some sort of user charge, be it gas taxes, parking charges, congestion charges or tolls. I think that the “benefit” is less direct, in most people’s minds, and therefore it’s not as strong an argument.
This means that I should stop trying to advocate for lower fares and start advocating for improved service, such as including schedule information in Google Transit, or improving the function of Smartrip cards.