Metro Fare – How Does it Compare?


It is no surprise that Metro is still in the red. Funding is still a huge problem and it doesn’t look like we subway commuters are going to get any reprieve anytime this year. It seems after reading commentary after commentary on the upcoming WMATA fare hikes, that they all revolve around Metro not having enough funding. They have already said the 10 cent fare hike did not work, blaming the weeklong snowpocalpse for the lost revenue. Now a new 50 cent fare hike is being proposed to make up for the budget shortfall.

Looking at purely a fares standpoint, we have lots of subway systems to compare fares to. Our rates are between $1.70-$5.00.

NYC MTA – $2.25 fixed
Chicago CTA – $2.25 fixed
San Francisco BART – $1.75 – $7.05
Boston T Subway – $1.70 fixed

For international comparison:
Tokyo Subway – 160-230 yen ($1.70-$2.90 USD)
Taiwan MRT Subway – 15-50 NT$ (~$0.30-$1.60 USD)
London Underground – 4 Lb – 4.50 Lb ($5.90-$6.80 USD)
Paris Metropolitain – 1.60 Euro fixed ($2.03 USD)
Moscow Subway – 26 rubles fixed ($0.86 USD)

There are some considerations we should add in as well. In the case of the Moscow subway, the economy drives the price to be what we would consider unfathomably (is that a word?) low, but may still be equally as taxing proportionately to what the average rider makes annually. The New York, London, and Tokyo subway systems are different than ours because the vast majority of people use the subway as their primary form of transportation (or other public transit). DC seems to be a combination of the BART system and Boston’s T – where we service the suburbs of the metropolitain area at stations that are surrounded by commuter parking, but still have adequate transportation for people who live in the district-proper.

There are some things I do like about our subway:
– Smarttrip card beats having to use a paper ticket
– Nextbus feature for catching a transfer
– standard directional train signage (orange line – vienna)
– extended reach to the suburbs
– escalators at all stations, but most appreciated at the deeper ones (Dupont)
– late night service (proposed to cut late night services by an hour, though) allows people an alternative to drunk driving
– free paper distribution at stations
– one less car on the road, one less car in traffic

My complaints of the subway:
– not enough stations throughout the city, hard to get to where you want to go if its not a tourist destination
– far overpriced for the service provided
– inefficient cars/seating (carpeting and p-leather seats not necessary)
– inefficient exits at stations (stairs should be in place of stations that have riders go up only one level)
– wasteful ventilation/air conditioning (more cubic feet to heat/cool in our high ceiling stations)
– unreliable service (expected arrival times fluctuate especially during rush hours)
– poor adaptability (do not appear to run enough trains during baseball games or other high-expected volume days)
– no express tracks (too late for the existing line, but potential for the new lines being built)
– poor customer service (there are plenty of examples of exceptions though)
(this list could go on a lot more, but I have to stop somewhere)

Metro - always a ray of sunshine for your commute

So a lot of people tell me that my complaints are things I should just “deal with” and that riders can’t change what has happened in the past (ie the express tracks). I remind them that these are just complaints and not my expectations. I think we should be able to hold public subway transportation accountable for certain expectations (some of these are going to overlap recent metro news) – these are things I think are “fair” for the public to expect with their subway system.

Expectation: Safe Trains
The trains should be maintained to the standards of the national transportation safety board. Accountability for the maintenance of the trains should be paramount to ensure rider safety. This website, written by a former WMATA employee, has provided some eye opening and unsettling information concerning the subway. Maintenance is where a lot of the money should be going, to maintain the track sensors, the automatic train control system, and updating the train fleet as needed. safety training for the train drivers is necessary as well, not only for the riders safety, but the safety of other metro employees that may be working on the tracks. every rider should be able to expect every train to be safe. no exceptions. think about this the next time you’re in a 1000 or 2000 series car (look at the first digit of the train number you’re on posted at each end of every train car).

Expectation: Management that manages
It is easy to say “just fix it”, but it is rarely that easy. The problems with metro appear to be the result of poor prior management aimed at keeping metro afloat and not improving it for the future. Now, the general manager has an incredible uphill battle which I’m not sure he will be able to come out of looking good. It may take many years to correct the previous leaders’ mistakes and lack of foresight. The GM needs to be a strong advocate for the riders – and needs to be willing to be disliked. The GM faces tough critics like the union, oversight boards, and of course the riders. The new GM needs to hold people accountable for the responsibilities they are hired to do.

Expectation: Complaints should have follow-up and transparency. Riders complain about a lot of things, which is easy to do between the poor station managers, poor driver braking, and the always-breaking escalators. Complaints from riders should be reviewed and follow-up should be transparent so that the riders know they are being heard. If the riders know that their complaints or suggestions are being heard, and improvements are being made, the employees are probably going to be more willing to provide better service – creating a good upward trend towards customer satisfaction that would build upon itself.

These three areas are the primary reasons why I do not say the metro is a good system. it is a system that will get you to the station you need to go… eventually. odds are it will get you there safely… but the margin for possibility of an accident appears to be higher than other systems. the metro will pull through this fiscal shortfall. But it will be the on shoulders of the GM to see if things start to get better. In the coming year, I don’t expect things to become fixed, but I expect it to heading in the right direction.

There are two great local blogs that give some insight into the dark side of the WMATA subway system. Definitely not the stuff WMATA wants you reading:

Unsuck DC Metro

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  1. Mia Felton
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Very well stated Wade. I think they need to get more advertising revenue, to cover the hike. Wrap the trains in advertisements if necessary. Here is another idea they are considering.

  2. Posted February 8, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    i would love to see whole trains wrapped in Caps or Wizards ads with player profiles or something on the inside! they have so much opportunity to do some great PR

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