August 25, 2009 10:21 AM
Earlier this year I had to fight hard to get a Metro bus fare increase through. It was terrible short-run politics but sound long-run public policy. Now, we're able to see some of the positive results.
This weekend the biggest increase in Metro service in a decade went into effect thanks to the new revenues made possible by the fare increase. And we're keeping every other promise I made when I proposed the increase as part of my 2009 budget. Security has been beefed up at the sometimes troublesome South Transfer Point. The Transit for Jobs program that provides free bus passes to mostly indigent people looking for work has been doubled. Metro will increase its marketing reach this fall. And thanks to community activist Lisa Subeck, a new deeply discounted low-income rider pass program is a huge success. Perhaps most importantly, Metro is now on a much stronger long-run footing, looking to build its cash reserves instead of depleting them.
And it appears right now that Metro's ridership forecast will be close, with ridership on track to increase by about 1.4% over the year despite the fare increase and generally low gas prices that make driving a more attractive alternative than it was a year ago. And overall revenues are up 10%, more than twice the increase in all of last year, though a little less than Metro's model had predicted. So, the early results appear to track pretty closely to Metro's predictions, but of course only a few months of experience can't tell the story. We won't really be able to judge the impact on ridership and revenues for several more months.
The fare increase case is a good example of my belief that good long-run public policy should trump good short-run politics every time. And the truth is that sound policy usually turns out to be good politics too if we're just patient enough to watch it unfold.