Metro Hearing Draws Crowd

Metro Hearing Draws Crowd

Speakers split on higher fares, but many support more advertising on Metro trains, buses.

Early hearings on higher Metro rail and bus fares drew only a few speakers. That wouldn’t hold true in Arlington, County Board member Chris Zimmerman told his colleagues on Metro’s Board of Directors.

About 40 people came to the Arlington County Board room on Monday night, March 22, and 22 spoke out on proposals to increase rail and bus fares, advertising around the Metro system and regular fare increases.

Hearings last Wednesday and Thursday in Fairfax drew only four and seven speakers, and another hearing in southeast D.C. Monday night had four speakers signed up in advance. “I told everybody, that’s not Arlington,” Zimmerman said.

Money raised by fare increases, and by selling more advertising space on trains and Metro stations, would go toward filling a $23 million shortfall in the $930 million Metro budget proposed for next year.

<b>REACTION TO FARE</b> increases was mixed on Monday. Most opposition to the proposed increases centered on service disruptions on rail lines, delayed bus schedules and poor public relations.

Sarah Dawson told Zimmerman and Rick Stevens, Metro’s director of business planning and development, that she lives four miles from work, and her commute by bus often takes two hours “on a good day.”

“I believe many of us would take another fare increase as reasonable if service was timely and efficient,” said Dawson, citing regular delays on the bus routes.

Higher fares are likely, Zimmerman said. “I think some fare increase is inevitable this year. I hate to say it, but I think it’s true.”

<b>POSSIBLY INCREASING ADVERTISING</b> on the Metro system met with a more positive response. “Sell advertising everywhere you can sell it,” said David Ray, who told Zimmerman he opposed all proposed fare increases. “Why raise costs on commuters and turn away people who are waiting to give you money?”

Under seven proposed initiatives to raise money outside of fares, Metro could install ATM machines in 24 Metrorail stations; install ads in tunnels; put ads above Metro train and bus windows; partially wrap some trains and buses in large advertisements; hang advertising banners in stations; and install video monitors on buses and trains featuring short news programs interspersed with advertisements.

According to Ron Rydstrom, Metro’s assistant manager for market development, all seven new advertising initiatives could add between $5 million and $15 million in new revenue to Metro.

Wrapped trains and video monitors drew the most criticism from speakers Monday, who said such additions would be “eyesores” in the Metro system. “Don’t NASCAR-ize Metro,” said Michael Grace, a member of the county’s Transportation Advisory Committee.

But others echoed Ray, and said they would rather see advertising on trains and buses than see more money coming out of their wallets. “As long as advertisers are willing to pay for the privilege, I say go for it,” said Robert Lohman.

<b>SINCE METRO DOESN’T</b> hold regular public hearings, some speakers, like Nancy Blaney, said they wanted to talk about problems they saw on the system — problems that erode support for fare increases.

On a recent train ride, Blaney said, she watched several passengers eat full meals on the train while nearby Metro employees did nothing to stop them.

“I would be willing to pay higher fares if service improves in a big way,” she said. “This has been a record bad year.”

Others speakers voiced various complaints, from overfilled trains to poor customer service by station managers. One woman complained of sexual harassment by bus drivers.

“I see an organization that seems tone deaf to dealing with customer feelings,” said Grace.