Transit fares in Maryland will rise this summer by 10 cents for one-way tickets, an increase the Maryland Transit Administration said Thursday is mandated by law.
Other fares, including day and monthly passes, also will increase. Regular bus, light rail and Metro Subway riders will pay $1.80 for a one-way fare — 80 cents for the elderly or disabled — when the new prices take effect June 25. The cost of a weekly pass, however, will decline from $22 to $20.
"If the [consumer price index] moves up by any percentage, the state law mandates we go up by 10 cents in the one-way, full-fare rate, which is what everything is based on," said Paul Shepard, a spokesman for the MTA. "That's exactly what was done."
The MTA's interpretation of the law has been questioned by legislative analysts, and its move to round up to the nearest 10 cents means that hikes under a law passed in 2013 have been well above inflation.
The price hikes will come a week after the scheduled rollout of a $135 million overhaul of the Baltimore bus system ordered by Gov. Larry Hogan, called BaltimoreLink, but the increases are not connected to that project, MTA officials said. BaltimoreLink is designed to reduce long waiting times for buses.
Under the BaltimoreLink plan, bus routes are being overhauled, worrying some riders that the new system will be confusing or won't offer the service they need. Some buses will get priority at traffic lights, and buses will travel in dedicated lanes in some parts of the city.
Steve Walden, 65, who pays the senior fare, said a fare increase doesn't seem unreasonable. But he said the jury is still out on whether the hike will come with better service under the BaltimoreLink program.
"It's almost a wait-and-see type of thing, to see how the service is actually going to be," Walden said.
The MTA is not increasing fares for commuter bus and MARC train service. Those fares are reassessed every five years under the state's 2013 transportation funding law.
The June increases reflect what is required under that law, MTA officials said. It dictates that fares should rise every two years in line with the consumer price index, a measure of inflation. The law instructs the MTA to round to the nearest 10 cents.
The MTA has said that any increase in inflation should trigger the 10-cent increase, but legislative analysts have questioned that. The nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services said in 2015 when fares were first increased under the new law that the MTA should have kept them flat.
The hikes have outpaced inflation since the 2013 law was passed. The consumer price index has risen about 4.4 percent since 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Regular transit fares will have risen by 12.5 percent, senior/disabled fares by 45.5 percent, weekly fares by 21.2 percent and monthly fares by 27.3 percent between 2013 and this year. However, before 2015 fares had not risen since 2003, and had they kept pace with inflation since 2003, some fares would be higher today.
"The law requires them to adjust according to inflation," said Brian O'Malley, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group for riders. "When they're doing it by more than the [consumer price index], it begs the question why."
Shepard, the MTA spokesman, said state law requires the 10-cent hike if there is any increase in inflation.
"Ten cents is what they were prescribed to increase by, if you look at state law," he said.
Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, said the value of the MTA's current service is not in line with its cost. Whether BaltimoreLink will represent a significant improvement, she said, "remains to be seen."
"The MTA likes to boast that we have very low fares, but the real thing we should be looking at is value not price," Lierman said. "Although New York and D.C. may have higher fares, [riders there] are also arguably getting better value because they have a lot more options in public transit."
She added: "There's going to be a big test of MTA over the next few months whether BaltimoreLink offers a real improvement or just nicer-colored buses and prettier signs."
Bus rider Christina Thomas, 67, said the MTA's service isn't worth a rate hike.
"I don't know if the service warrants these escalating prices right here," she said as she waited for a bus. "They need to do more for these prices. You're going to hear a lot of screaming. They're already screaming about the water bills changing from quarterly to monthly. You can imagine what's going to happen when they see this."
MTA's fares starting June 25
Full: $1.80, Senior/Disability $0.80, Student $1.30, Mobility: $2
Day Pass / 1-Day Pass
Full: $4.20, Senior/Disability: $2.10, Weekly / 7-Day Pass, Full: $20
Monthly / 30-Day Pass
All-Access College Transit Pass
Express Bus Monthly Pass
Express Bus Upcharge
Full: $0.50, Senior/Disability: $0.50, Student: $0.50
20 Trip Book