WMATA Fares v. The Rest of the Nation

This apparently got deleted in the recent FixWMATA site redesign, so I’m reposting it here.

We all know WMATA fares are high. Really high, if you’re coming from farther out in the system and riding all the way into the core at peak hours. And that doesn’t even begin to include parking (though WMATA certainly does).

But compared to other subway/heavy rail systems in the country, how does WMATA stack up? I spent way too much time at work crunching the numbers. And here’s how it looks. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect FY12 operating budgets only. So procurement like the 7000-series cars or expansions like the Second Avenue Subway are not included here (these projects tend to include large federal grants and are not generally funded by passenger revenues). As well, I have tried to use FY12 data where available, though in some cases I have had to use that from FY11.

LA Metro system FY12 budget revenues (PDF p. 12) total $4.529 billion. Of that, approximately $2.214 billion, or 53%, comes from dedicated taxes [three separate sales taxes, the Transportation Development Act (TDA), State Transit Assistance (STA)]. Federal and state grants provide another $1.037 billion (25%), while other sources like legal settlements, filming revenues, bond proceeds, etc. account for $940 million (22%). Fares take in only $338 million, or 8%.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) has revenues for FY12 of $391 million (PDF p. 80). Sales tax provides $201 million, or 51%. Federal funds are another $38 million (10%). $22 million (6%) comes from other sources, including leases and existing capital. $130 million of this comes from passenger fares, for 33%.

Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) had FY12 revenues of $1.6 billion. This includes operating revenues (e.g. fares) of $504 million (30%), $929 million (56%) from dedicated taxes and local assessments, and $212 million (12%) from other sources.

San Francisco is a tricky case, because Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and the San Francisco MTA (“Muni”) are separate agencies that serve a common market (and do not share a lot of services. BART is solely a heavy rail system, whereas Muni runs cable cars, light rail, and the bus system. We can first look at each system separately, and then as a combined whole.

  • BART FY12 (PDF p. 8): $617 million in income sources. $379 million (61%) in passenger fares & parking. $238 million (38%) in taxes and assistance.
  • SFMTA FY12 (PDF p. 13): $781 million in revenues. Parking and traffic “fees & fines” account for $277 million (35%). Grants are $106 million (14%). General fund monies are $177 million (23%). Fares are $182 million (23%).
  • Combined as a whole, that gives the BART/MTA (SF) system: $1.4 billion in revenues. Parking & Traffic fees and fines of $292 million (20%). Taxes and grants for $344 million (25%). $177 million from the SF General Fund. And fares of $528 million (37%).

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia has total FY12 revenues and subsidies (PDF p.19) of $1.2 billion. Federal, state, and local subsidies account for $737 million (61%) of this, while  $440 million (36%) comes from passenger revenue.

In New York, the MTA has FY12 revenues (PDF p. 12) of $12.5 billion. $1.5 billion (12%) comes from tolls, $4.4 billion (35%) from dedicated taxes, and $1 billion (8%) from state and local subsidies. Farebox revenue accounts for $5 billion, or 41%.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) had total FY12 revenues (PDF p. 26) of $1.3 billion. Fares and passes accounted for $523 million, or 40%. Other system-generated revenue took in $78 million, or 6%. Subsidies and public funding were worth $705 million (54%).

And finally, our beloved WMATA. The FY12 budget (PDF p. 29) has revenues of $1.48 billion. $768 million of this (52%) comes from fares and parking. Another $670 (45%) comes from state and local funds, while $44 million (2%) comes from other sources.

So, in short:
MTA (LA): 8% fares
MTA (SF) alone: 23% fares
MBTA: 30% fares
MARTA: 33% fares
SEPTA: 36% fares
MTA (SF)/BART: 37% fares & parking
CTA: 40% fares
MTA (NY): 41% fares
WMATA: 52% fares & parking
BART alone: 61% fares & parking

Part of this gap between WMATA and peer systems is owing to the former’s convoluted funding structure. It is funded by contributions from the jurisdictions it serves (e.g., the District, PG County, Alexandria) weighted according to ridership and the number of stations in the jurisdiction. But clearly whatever’s being provided is not nearly enough, and has led to an overdependence on passenger revenues and parking. What actually bears further consideration is the separate parking breakdown, as based on the horror stories I’ve heard of using the garages at Franconia or Vienna or other places, that quickly becomes a pricy proposition.

What isn’t in question is that with the semi-exception of BART, WMATA relies on user fees to a much greater extent than many other equivalent systems throughout the country. I shudder at what the thought of reducing fares (and thus revenues, and thus budget outlays) might do to the already-unacceptable service WMATA provides, but for the amount we pay relative to other systems and even relative to the funding jurisdictions with the WMATAservice area, we deserve far, far better. Perhaps those communities served by Metro might think about stepping up and contributing more than the bare minimum for what should be a world-class public transit system.


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