News & Politics

Metro Caves on Letting Riders Bail on Trains Without Paying

Photograph by Flickr user m01229.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency announced Thursday that starting July 1, Metrorail customers who enter a station but leave before boarding a train within 15 minutes will no longer be charged the minimum fare. The new grace period, which is written into Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld‘s budget for the 2017 fiscal year, satisfies a demand long espoused by WMATA’s legions of perpetually aggrieved riders.

“This is all about refocusing on our customers and recognizing that everything we do should be focused on safety and service reliability,” Wiedefeld says in a Metro press release.

Wiedefeld first proposed the change shortly after taking Metro’s top job last fall as one way to win back rider loyalty. The system’s customer satisfaction rate plummeted from 82 percent to 67 percent in 2015, while overall ridership figures are at their lowest rates since 2004.

Currently, Metro customers who swipe through a turnstile but bail out before a train arrives are charged $2.15 during rush hour and $1.75 during off-peak hours. But with a 300 percent increase in reports of delayed or malfunctioning trains over just two years, riders started clamoring for a grace period.

But the 15-minute window will come at a cost to the cash-strapped transit agency. Last fall, Metro estimated that “entry-exit” fares account for about $2 million of its annual revenue. To offset that impending loss, Wiedefeld’s draft budget proposed cutting 20 jobs from non-safety positions or current vacancies.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.