Metrorail will impose only the afternoon portion of its new peak of the peak fare surcharge on Monday. Commuters will get a few weeks' reprieve on paying the extra 20 cents during the morning peak, as the transit authority struggles to adjust its fare programming.
The peak of the peak charge, a new style of fare approved by the Metro board this spring, will eventually be imposed on rail riders who travel at the very busiest times: 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays. While an earlier round of rail and bus fare increases took effect June 27, the peak of the peak charge required an upgrade in Metro's fare-calculating system, so planners scheduled it for the first week of August.
The upgrade proved even more challenging than Metro originally expected. The problem, according to the transit authority, was created by memory limitations in the fare gate technology used with paper Farecards. Metro said it needs the extra time to ensure that the technology can accommodate all the time periods and fares involved in peak of the peak pricing.
This should be done by the end of August, but Metro has not set an exact date for applying the morning surcharge. SmarTrip electronic fare cards are not subject to the same fare-calculating limitations, but Metro is going to treat all cards equally when it comes to imposing the peak of the peak surcharge.
This means that for most of August, a typical 9 to 5 commuter who makes two rail trips a day at the busiest times will pay an extra dollar a week rather than two dollars.
Over the weekend, Metro will place yellow, softball-sized decals on the fare vending machines that advise riders of the partial surcharge.
When the reprogramming is done and the reprieve ends, the paper Farecards riders are buying now will still work, Metro said.
While some riders are paying a buck a week extra, Metro stands to lose $200,000 to $375, 000 in anticipated revenue, depending on exactly when the programming problem is resolved
How to beat it
The peak of the peak surcharge will be assessed when you enter the rail system. It doesn't matter how far you ride, how long you ride or where you exit. That means that if you have some flexibility, you can save the money by entering the system earlier or later than the busiest times. So as of Monday, if you can go through the fare gate at 6:05 p.m. rather than 5:55 p.m., you'll save 20 cents. If you travel on the early side of the afternoon peak, and would normally go through the gate at 4:40 p.m., you could save 20 cents by sliding out of work a little earlier and going through the gate at 4:25 p.m.
Time is money.
If you're still with me, I can make the fare payment system even more complicated by listing some of the other changes coming up in this round.
On Monday, rail riders who use paper Farecards will pay 25 cents more per trip than riders who use SmarTrip cards. Metro had great success moving bus riders to use the electronic cards after imposing a penalty on cash fares. It's hoping for a similar outcome now with a rail fare differential.
Also on Monday, the cost of three Metrorail passes will increase. The Weekly Short Trip Pass will be $32.35, the Weekly Fast Pass will be $47 and the Transit Link Card for
MARC and VRE riders will be $102.
Cheaper SmarTrip cards
The one thing that will be cheaper is the cost of buying a SmarTrip card. On Aug. 29, Metro will drop the charge from $5 to $2.50. So as the transit authority pushes riders away from paper and toward plastic, it will be making the plastic cheaper.
I'm planning to review all these changes and sum up the seven-month string of fare increases for The Post's Commuter page on Sunday. Are there particular aspects of all this that raise questions or comments? Anything you'd like me to clarify?