MARC fares set to rise Riders' complaints fail to sway MTA


Despite complaints from some steamed customers, the fares on commuter trains go up on Monday.

Mass Transit Administration officials announced yesterday that Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) fares will rise 25 cents for a one-way base ticket and the discount for monthly passes will drop from 50 percent to 43 percent. That amounts to a 19 percent average fare increase.

To the penny, the proposal is the same one that the MTA unveiled in July -- before conducting five public hearings.

John A. Agro Jr., the MTA's administrator, said the decision does not mean the MTA ignored the concerns of its riders. Rather, he said, it was a matter of meeting the requirements of a state law mandating that the agency recover half the cost of running MARC from fares.

"It's going to cause a bit of sticker shock, and I appreciate that," Mr. Agro said. "I wish I were in a position to do otherwise, but I'm not."

In the future the MTA will consider raising ticket costs in smaller, more frequent increments, he said. MARC last raised rates in 1988.

The fare increase will not affect the majority of MARC riders until November since most customers buy their monthly passes in advance.

The decision is likely to displease MARC customers who have complained about tardy trains, poor ventilation, and limited parking at stations.

"I wish there were some way of going above the MTA," Stephen Atlas of Columbia, a federal employee who commutes to Washington, said yesterday. "It just seems like a rubber stamp when a lot of substantive issues got raised."

MTA officials said they will look into running trains during midday and evenings on the Brunswick and Camden lines, running more express trains, expanding parking and buying more reliable equipment.

Officials also hope to amend contracts with CSX Transportation Inc. and Amtrak to include performance incentives, a spokeswoman said.

Amtrak runs the Penn Line from Washington to Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station and north to Perryville. CSX runs the Camden line, linking Baltimore and Washington, and the Brunswick line, which runs west from Washington.

Mr. Agro said he doesn't expect the fare increase to cause a significant drop in ridership. "You may see some people return to their automobiles in the short term," he said, "but eventually they'll realize MARC is still a good bargain."

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