Only two dozen people showed up to a public hearing Metro held Wednesday to discuss proposals to expand parking fee collection and raise fare rates during regional events like the Women’s March. Of the attendees, only four testified; three appeared to be regulars of these WMATA outreach sessions. With minimal in-person feedback and an unknown number of suggestions submitted online, Metro is poised to do whatever its Board decides is best with the two revenue-enhancing proposals increasing parking rates and fares during regional events.
Metro Wants to Charge for Parking on Weekends and Holidays
Nina Albert, WMATA’s Managing Director of Real Estate and Parking, kicked off the short hearing by outlining several ideas to increase the revenue generated from the system’s roughly 65,000 parking spots. The proposal includes expanding collection times for parking fees and increasing those fees for special events:
- Starting weekday revenue collection hours at 7:30 AM, from 9:30 AM
- Charging for parking on Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays at weekday rates
- In lieu of regular weekend and holiday revenue collection, charging for parking during regional events that occur on weekends or holidays, such as Presidential Inaugurations
- Charging a “special event fee” for all non-riders during events such street festivals
- Parking fee collection using smartphone or web apps (e.g., SpotHero)
- The addition of multiday parking rates
Metro’s Parking Pilot Shows Lower Fees Don’t Attract Riders
Metro implemented a few of these changes in pilot programs that began February of this year. Since then, Metro has lowered parking gates for fare collection at 7:30 a.m. and kept them down until 2 a.m. Parking fees were collected this year on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. To increase the number of people parking and riding, Metro also tried lower parking fees at underutilized lots at West Falls Church and Landover stations.
Metro is not pursuing reduced parking fees after the pilot “because this pilot did not increase ridership or revenues for Metro.” Officials want to make the expansion of fare collection hours and weekend enforcement permanent, though Metro did not say directly that pilots of those programs increased revenue or ridership. The other ideas listed about were not piloted, but WMATA says they are “anticipated to enhance revenues and improve customer experience.”
From the start of the parking pilot on Feb. 5 through the end of May, Metro says 38,312 transactions collected fees during expanded weekday morning hours. Metro officials say “the majority of these early morning transactions are non-transit riders ... and therefore generating new revenue for the Metrorail system without impacting transit riders.”
Metro Seeks to Charge Non-Riders Who Park at Nearby Stations
A surprisingly high number of people use WMATA parking garages and surface lots to attend events nearby. Metro has been reaching these folks at select times and locations.
“Metro has long had a “Special Event” non-rider rate at Park & Ride facilities for events that take place near or around the Largo Town Center, Morgan Blvd, and College Park Metrorail stations. These three stations are permitted to charge a Special Event fee because FedEx Field (in Landover, Md.) and the University of Maryland (in College Park) each host major sporting events and concerts that draw large crowds, and many attendees park at Metro’s parking facilities without riding the Metrorail station and walk to the nearby event.”
WMATA charges up to $25 for that “Special Event fee” and they hope to capture revenue from similar non-rider parking throughout the DC area.
“Metro seeks public feedback on its proposal to apply the Special Event non-rider fee at any Metrorail station, not limited to the three stations listed above. … This Special Event fee would not apply to people who have ridden Metrorail or Metrobus within two hours of exiting the parking facility fare gate and would be applied only at the impacted parking facility. ”
Metro May Embrace Mobile Payments for Parking
WMATA’s Managing Director of Parking insisted that Metro will always allow customers to pay with physical media (coins/cash, credit card or SmarTrip), but she said the system wants to partner with a mobile payments operator like SpotHero. Options include license plate recognition technology or pay stations similar to EZ-Pass. The convenience of payment via smartphone with come with, well, a convenience fee on top of the parking rate so Metro can cover the service charges from the payments processor.
WMATA Wants to Close The Overnight Parking Loophole
At the moment, Metro has three multi-day parking lots (Franconia Springfield, Greenbelt, and Huntington Metrorail stations) where customers can stay for 10 days and pay only the one-day rate when they exit. Now, “Metro is proposing to expand multi-day parking to multiple Metrorail stations, as well as to charge for each day of parking.” The fee structure for long-term parking will charge a maximum non-rider fee for the first day and the rider parking fee in days thereafter.
Metro Wants to Charge Peak Fares During Big Events
Metro ridership may be cratering among everyday commuters and residents, but ridership continues to spike during regional events where rail transportation is convenient or necessary. These events bring in such a crush of riders that peak-level rail service is needed. Since these events occur outside of or longer than the normal rush hour, Metro takes on additional costs for the extra service. Service increases mean higher operating costs, like electricity to run the trains and specialized extras like increased Transit Police presence.
To cover these increase costs, Metro wants to charge “peak fares during peak service hours on regional event days (or portions of those days, as appropriate), whether the day occurs on a weekday, weekend or holiday.” Here’s how the two fare rate schedules compare: “During periods of peak fares, the cost of a rail trip is $2.25 rather than $2.00 for short trips, while the maximum fare is $6.00 rather than $3.85.”
Public Feedback Welcome Until Monday, Oct. 29
Given the lackluster turnout for this week’s hearing, we hope folks are taking advantage of the online survey at WMATA’s website. Public comments will be accepted until 9 a.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 29.